of the  
Timber Curtainwall  
and its Place in  
North America  
b y N i c k S t . D e n i s  
Timber curtainwall is catching on in the United States. The J. Craig  
Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif. (top and bottom) and the tower  
at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh (center) are two recent large-scale  
applications of the product.  
USGlass, Metal & Glazing | September 2016  
ood curtainwall,which has been used in Europe for decades,is find-  
ing its way to North America. The concept has taken hold in recent  
years on this side of the Atlantic and has high potential for both  
aesthetics and performance.  
The typical timber curtainwall consists of wood framework visible from the  
interior, coupled with an aluminum glazing system on the exterior.  
Most companies that produce timber curtainwall offer aluminum or wood  
caps on the exterior.This allows the design to either maintain a consistent wood  
look both inside and outside, or take on the aesthetics of a typical aluminum  
glazing system on the exterior with the warm look of wood on the interior.  
The material’s thermal performance attributes, as well as its sustainability,  
structural characteristics and customability, also contribute to its attractive-  
ness as an alternative to more traditional curtainwall systems.  
The question, however, is whether the cost of the product can be competitive  
enough to make it applicable in the mainstream,and not just a luxury design item.  
Where It’s Applied  
Greg Header, president of Pine Grove, Pa.-based Solar Innovations, says his  
company’s wood curtainwall is ideal for office spaces, as evidenced by a 30-  
story installation on the interior of the new Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh.  
It’s also been used in hospitals, museums and in the educational sector.  
Header says he can see it being used in more institutional projects as it be-  
comes more affordable.  
Toronto-based Tiltco also has a wood curtainwall system on the market,  
which has been used primarily in residential applications.  
General manager Sanjay Madha says the residential sector makes up ap-  
proximately 75 percent of Tiltco’s wood curtainwall jobs, since commercial  
projects are “usually more budget-driven.” He’s seen the product catch on in  
more high-end, custom home projects, though Tiltco has also sold wood cur-  
tainwall on multiple government projects and other nonresidential buildings.  
Pacific Architectural Millwork (PAM) located in Brea, Calif., partners with  
German manufacturer Raico.  
continued on page 52  
September 2016 | USGlass, Metal & Glazing  
of the  
WOUOTODScontinued from page 51  
for the right wood”remains a challenge.  
These systems require very tight  
tolerances, and to get it done perfectly,  
the wood is usually sourced from Eu-  
rope,” adds Madha.  
He says this is because European  
suppliers have been sourcing wood  
for curtainwall for much longer than  
suppliers in North America. In fact, he  
The typical wood curtainwall system consists of a wood interior and an notes that a client recently requested  
aluminum exterior. The latter can apply an aluminum or wood cap depending that the wood be sourced locally, “and  
on the design for the outside of the structure.  
we couldn’t find anyone.”  
He says the companies that manu-  
There’s a big market to capture with forming system regardless of what spe- facture wood structures for buildings  
this system,” says PAM president Ryan cies you use,” says Madha. “You can are the ones making wood and timber  
Higman. incorporate double-glazing, triple-glaz- frame elements,and European suppliers  
PAM has sold most of its wood cur- ing or almost any glass configuration. are better equipped with the technology  
tainwall in California due to proximity, Its thermal performance is probably the to do so.  
but it’s starting to connect on projects best out there compared to any other  
in the mountain states. While he says type of curtainwall system.”  
Still, Header is optimistic that as  
wood becomes a more common mate-  
As an example, wood curtainwall rial for this type of application in North  
the product is ideal in certain regions  
where wood is more accepted,” he’s helped the J.Craig Venter Institute,a re- America, the industry will mature and  
been surprised to see it in more “con- search center in La Jolla, Calif., achieve competition will increase, ultimately  
temporary” areas, as well.  
Solar Innovations’ timber curtain-  
net-zero energy.  
“The entire exterior and the inte-  
lowering the cost.  
wall has been installed throughout the rior perimeter is done with a timber Fabrication to Installation  
U.S., and Header says it’s especially curtainwall system spanning multiple One of Solar Innovations’fabrication  
popular in states such as Colorado, stories,” says Higman, whose com- facilities is dedicated entirely to wood  
Montana and “places geographically pany supplied the project. “Because products, as its processes are much  
that use a lot of wood.”  
it provided so much natural light and different than aluminum and require  
because of the thermal efficiency of certain equipment and methods of  
timber, the glazing contributed to cutting, laminating, coating and seal-  
A High Performer  
Aesthetics aside, Header notes that LEED Platinum status and net-zero on ing. Humidity and climate control are  
wood curtainwall “is great for cold cli- that building.”  
mates,because it’s so thermally efficient.”  
also important factors.  
The installation process also poses  
some unique challenges, but it’s not  
The biggest hurdle timber curtain- daunting compared to other types of  
Wood has low thermal conductiv- Cost Curve  
ity because of its porosity. And since  
glazing and fenestration can have a wall has to overcome remains cost. systems.  
significant effect on a building’s heat Header says wood curtainwall comes  
The Shore Memorial Hospital in  
loss or heat gain, using wood in place at an approximate 30-percent premium Somers Point, N.J., was one of the com-  
of aluminum can contribute greatly to to other systems.  
a building’s energy efficiency. He points out that this is largely due to Guthrie Glass and Mirror president Lynn  
Wood curtainwall is a very high-per- sourcing, as finding the “right supplier Guthrie says her company had never in-  
pany’s first wood curtainwall projects.  
USGlass, Metal & Glazing | September 2016  
stalled this type of curtainwall prior to what they’re used to with aluminum.  
“You are somewhat limited in wood  
the project. She says a key challenge was “They tend to overcome that fear factor when it comes to things like unitized  
that the system had to be tested to meet once we walk them through that,” he systems on commercial jobs, because  
hurricane impact specification, but the says. He adds that his company does “a of aluminum and metal extrusions and  
installation itself went smoothly.  
tremendous amount of design-assist the way they’re able to interlock, etc.,”  
It was very simple to install and went upfront to reduce surprises in the field.” says Higman.“Those materials are able  
Header suggests wood curtainwall to do things that we don’t have the ca-  
together perfectly,”she says.“The project  
was structurally glazed at the horizon- be limited to around 24 feet high and a pability to do with a wood system. But  
tals, so it has a nice clean look. We had horizontal structural member used to with that said, we have far more cus-  
no issues with water or air infiltration.” tie it back in higher elevations.  
tomization on the interior.You’d have to  
do a custom extrusion run with alumi-  
num or steel, whereas we can do much  
Perhaps the most advantageous trait more interesting shapes.  
“So the idea is to take advantage of  
species of wood can be used in timber the material rather than look at it as a  
It’s a soft material, so care of instal- curtainwall. draw-back.” n  
White oak is a popular choice of  
Header says there are some consid-  
erations specific to installing wood Creative and Custom  
curtainwall, namely the need to pro-  
tect the wood from damage since it can of these systems is that virtually any  
chip easily.  
lation and the process in which you in-  
stall it has to be a little different,” adds designers, as is mahogany. Douglas  
Madha. “You can’t manhandle wood fir, ash, maple, spruce and pine are  
like you would aluminum. Also, tem- others that wood curtainwall manu-  
Nick St. Denis is an  
assistant editor for  
USGlass magazine.  
He can be reached at  
perature and humidity are a factor.”  
Those issues aside, Higman says  
facturers have used for their systems.  
Wood can also be shaped and  
when working with glaziers, he ex- angled much more easily than  
plains that the process is similar to aluminum.  
September 2016 | USGlass, Metal & Glazing