Thermal Bridges Redux


by Joseph Lstiburek

It is a beautiful building. Quite stunning actually. It is an embodiment of everything that is right and wrong with architecture. An orgy of glass and concrete. It is a thermodynamic obscenity while it takes your breath away. An 82-story heat exchanger in the heart of Chicago2 (Photograph 1a, b, c, d, e, f, g).

Photograph 1a
 (left): Baseboard Radiator; Photograph 1b (right): Liquid Gas Heat Exchanger

Photograph 1c
 (left): Extended Finned Surface – Aluminum; Photograph 1d (middle): Extended Finned Surface – Concrete; Photograph 1e (right): Aqua Tower Balcony’s

Photograph 1f (left): Infra-red of Aqua Tower – Image courtesy of Dave Robley, Thermographer, Fluke Corp and Michael Stuart, L3 TI/IRT, Fluke Corp.; Photograph 1g(right): Infra-red of Aqua Tower Balcony – Image courtesy of Dave Robley, Thermographer, Fluke Corp and Michael Stuart, L3 TI/IRT, Fluke Corp.

Could it have been constructed differently without the thermal bridges? Without changing the appearance? Sure. It could have been an example of efficiency not just iconic architecture. And that would have been a beautiful thing. With off the shelf stuff no less. How about a true R-5 curtain wall between thermally broken cantilevered slabs? Check out Figure 1 and Photograph 2. Available right here in the good ole US of A. Also, apparently in Serbia (Photograph 3) and pretty much anywhere folks care. Triple-glazed gas-filled curtain walls have been around for a while. Nothing magical there. The thermal breaks have also been around for a while. Mostly in Europe, and in Canada, which seems like Europe lately.

Figure 1: Section At Balcony Glazing Interface – Take a high performance curtainwall and couple it with a high density expanded polystyrene thermal break and some basic slab water control and you have a beautiful thing. No reason why this could not have been done. The argument against is cost of course. But in Chicago in a fabulous building like this? The stunning architecture alone ups the value of the building way beyond the cost of the good glass and the thermal breaks. Hey, I like this building. I am just dreaming of what could have also been…


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