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The double-skin facade is a system of building consisting of two skins, or facades, placed in such a way that air flows in the intermediate cavity. The ventilation of the cavity can be natural, fan supported or mechanical. Apart from the type of the ventilation inside the cavity, the origin and destination of the air can differ depending mostly on climatic conditions, the use, the location, the occupational hours of the building and the HVAC strategy.
The glass skins can be single or double glazing units with a distance from 20 cm up to 2 metres. Often, for protection and heat extraction reasons during the cooling period, solar shading devices are placed inside the cavity.
The essential concept of the Double Skin Façade was first explored and tested by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier in the early 20th century. His idea, which he called mur neutralisant (neutralizing wall), involved the insertion of heating/cooling pipes between large layers of glass. Such a system was employed in his Villa Schwob (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1916), and proposed for several other projects, including the League of Nations competition (1927), Centrosoyuz building (Moscow, 1928–33), and Cité du Refuge (Paris, 1930). American engineers studying the system in 1930 informed Le Corbusier that it would use much more energy than a conventional air system, but Harvey Bryan later concluded Le Corbusier's idea had merit if it included solar heating.
Another early experiment was the 1937 Alfred Loomis house by architect William Lescaze in Tuxedo Park, NY. This house included "an elaborate double envelope" with a 2-foot-deep air space conditioned by a separate system from the house itself. The object was to maintain high humidity levels inside.
One of the first modern examples to be constructed was the Occidental Chemical Building (Niagara Falls, New York, 1980) by Cannon Design. This building, essentially a glass cube, included a 4-feet-deep cavity between glass layers to pre-heat air in winter.
The recent resurgence of efficient building design has renewed interest in this concept. Since the USGBC rewards points for reduction in energy consumption vs. a base case, this strategy has been used to optimize energy performance of buildings.
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