Metal buildings and windows

Metal windows for buildings

The first metal windows were made from wrought iron by medieval blacksmiths. These simple frames were glazed with either stained glass or clear leaded lights, and were mostly used for ecclesiastical buildings and major country houses whose owners were among the few people who could afford them. At this time, leaded lights were also installed direct to masonry or wood, and secured with copper wires to vertically or horizontally fixed metal bars known as 'ferramenta' or 'saddle bars'. Metal buildings info

Minimal engineering skills were required to make windows with fixed lights. However, casement windows (a window with at least one light which can be swung open), demanded considerable dexterity and craftsmanship in order to produce the fittings required, including the gudgeon plates on which they hinged, decorative handles, handle plates and stays. These designs might not meet today's standards for draught and weather protection, but they were often beautiful examples of 'the blacksmith's art.'

The earliest window glass in general use was variously known as 'muff glass', 'broadsheet', or 'cylinder glass'. It was made by blowing a cylindrical vessel, which is then opened up at each end and split from end to end to form a sheet. In the late 17th century this method of production was largely superseded by 'crown glass', also known as spun glass. This produced much clearer glass, involved manipulating and spinning the semi-molten glass to form a disc from which small panes could be cut. Both glass types have a distinctive beauty when light reflects off them. The earliest glass was extremely expensive and was only available in relatively small panes without severe distortion, typically 6"x 6" maximum. As a result almost all windows of the Tudor and Jacobean periods were made up of leaded light panels often with diamond shaped panes called 'quarries'. The quarries were joined together to form the window light using 'H'-section strips of lead, called 'cames', which were soldered together to make up one large glazed area. (Copper was used in place of lead, particularly during the Arts and Crafts movement, in the late 19th century.) Where flat sections of wrought iron were used to make up a frame, the leaded light was fixed to it with wire secured with lead solder. In later windows a copper rivet was used instead of the wire, but otherwise the design was much the same. In both instances it would have been usual to weatherproof the light at its junction with the frame with putty (a mix of pounded whiting and linseed oil), angled to shed water

Steel Windows
In 1856 Sir Henry Bessemer pioneered a new production process for hot rolled steel, which had a dramatic effect on industrial growth, and steel mills using his new techniques sprang up in the Midlands and North of England. As a world power, Great Britain rapidly emerged as a mass-producer of steel, and it was from this point that the third stage of metal window development began.

'Crittall' were the largest and best placed manufacturer to take full advantage of the new opportunities, and the company played a leading role in revolutionizing the world-wide use of the metal casement. Indeed its name eventually became a generic term for steel windows. After the First World War the country demanded 'homes fit for heroes'. These houses, as with those in the construction boom that followed the next war, almost invariably included steel windows, which were inexpensive and readily available in a wide selection of suites, styles and standard sizes. Their use in all forms of architecture became prolific, in keeping with the new fashions and demands for low-cost, light, airy and well ventilated buildings. Subsequently steel window manufacturers became large and numerous. Millions of steel windows were fitted at home and abroad in commercial buildings, housing estates, Bauhaus-inspired creations and Henrietta Barnett's inspired vision of cottage-style homes with tree-lined avenues; a utopian ideal typified by the Hampstead Garden Suburb. Huge numbers of steel windows were sold up until the 1970s (benefiting from mandatory hot dip galvanizing in 1955) but thereafter sales have fallen dramatically, and aluminum is now the dominant force in metal fenestration.


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