What loads do façades and brise soleil place on a building?

It goes without saying that architectural façades and brise soleil systems need to stand the test of time, and the loads imposed on them.

In a nutshell: 

  • Architectural façades and brise soleil create loads from wind, snow and ice build-up, and the weight of the system
  • Façade specialists use desktop simulation and physical testing to calculate loads, and feed the results into finite element analysis
  • Brackets, fixings, anchor points and the systems themselves need to withstand the loads imposed on them
  • The complex nature of loadings mean architects and structural engineers should liaise with façade specialists from an early stage of a project

It’s the same story for all brackets, fixings and support structures. But what exactly are these loads and how do you go about calculating them?

By loads, we mean the impact of wind, snow and ice build-up, and the actual weight of the system. And before anyone designs an architectural façade or brise soleil system – or an entire building – they need to know what they’re dealing with.

It's why façades and solar screening systems (and the structures they attach to) are subject to strict design standards. And it’s why architects and structural engineers liaise with façade specialists from a very early stage.

During that period of collaboration, façade specialists will use desktop simulation and physical testing to calculate loads accurately, and feed the results into a process of finite element analysis.

So, what loads are we talking about?

  • The force of the wind is the obvious one. Brise soleil systems provide solar shading but their design (they project from buildings) mean they catch the wind – particularly in maritime and exposed locations. Specifying robust brackets and fixings, and ensuring anchor points (on curtain walling, structural steelwork, brickwork) are strong enough, is paramount.
  • Wind can also deflect panels, causing possible metal fatigue over a number of years. While 3mm aluminium is the norm for panels, some locations may require 5mm or 6mm, or internal stiffeners – both of which will cost more. Smaller panels are likely to deflect less but more panels mean more brackets and extra cost.
  • Winter weather can also impose significant loads. Snow on horizontal brise soleil blades is the obvious worry, but ice build-up on blades and panels can significantly add to the overall weight and the loads being placed on brackets and fixings.
  • Then, of course, there are the loads imposed by the weight of the system itself. This can be a factor, despite the common use of lightweight aluminium. These loads need to be calculated long before the building structure goes up – at the time of design, when a façade specialist can provide all the information required.

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