Architect’s Corner: Building Better

Architectural Solutions for Energy Efficiency

by Daniel Shields, president, Fabricated Products Group

(Editor’s Note: Daniel Shields is the president of Fabricated Products Group (FPG) and has approximately 25 years of industry experience.  FPG, located in Chicago, Illinois, is a custom fabricator and machine job shop specializing in the design, engineering, and manufacturing of premium architectural systems and components.  FPG is committed to providing exceptional quality with breakneck turnaround times.  The company has two locations in the Midwest with its headquarters in the greater Chicago area, serving clients from all over the world.  FPG is a subsidiary of MHS Legacy Group, a national holding corporation with roots back to 1895.  He can be reached at

As operational budgets tighten and prices rise, building owners are continually looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency in their buildings.  Fortunately, from an architectural design perspective, there are several features and strategies aimed at doing just this.  Elements such as high performing light shelves, sunshades/sunscreens, and screening systems can all help improve a structure’s energy efficiency and lead to regular cost savings. 

         Sunshades have been used for decades to add an extra dimension to flat surfaces of a building to enhance its overall aesthetic.  However, over the years, sunshades have been developed with efficiency and sustainability in mind.  One of the most beneficial features of sunshades is their ability to contribute to improved energy efficiency for businesses.  Their presence blocks direct sunlight from entering through windows and doorways, which can help better regulate the temperature of the building.  Not only does this keep the tenants cool inside the building, but it can also lower regular air conditioning costs.

         Aluminum is the ideal material for sunscreens and sunshades due to its flexibility when fabricated, and it offers greater durability than many other building materials.  Metal is also easy to maintain, available in a variety of colors and finishes, and can greatly enhance the aesthetics of the building.

         Customized sunshades and sunscreens create a one-of-a-kind look and provide unique features to every project.  They can be formed into specific shapes in both horizontal and vertical configurations to achieve the architectural vision for the project.  Sunshades can incorporate perforated plates into the design and the perforation pattern, hole size, and shape allow control over privacy and the amount of light entering the interior of the building.  This can lower energy costs, reduce glare and heat from the sun, allow natural light to illuminate the interior of the building, and help make the building LEED® credit compliant.  Perforated sunscreens and sunshades can also be fabricated with recycled material, assisting in overall sustainability efforts. 

         Sunshades are easy to assemble and install, and hold nothing back in terms of strength, durability, and function.  They can be attached to curtain walls or façades, into the building structure, or as infill in a steel frame.  They add beauty and functionality to any facility.

         Sunscreens and sunshades also have specific types that are suitable for different purposes.  Another term used for sunshades is brise soleil.  Architects have been incorporating brise soleil into the building design, as it is a feature that deflects sunlight and reduces heat, all while allowing natural light to enter a building.  Once installed, brise soleil can block direct sunshine from entering a building during warm seasons and provide a cooling effect.  They also can allow for direct sunlight to enter and warm spaces during colder times of the year.  This combination can reduce energy consumption over the life of the building.

         There are various brise soleil options available for buildings that need to regulate sunlight according to the time of day, season, and location.  Fixed brise soleil, for instance, blocks vertical sun rays while allowing for a horizontal view from outside the window.  In most cases, fixed brise soleil only covers the upper part of the window, whereas projected brise soleil provides solar protection for the top floor of a building.

         Horizontal and vertical fins are other options that can be used to cover the entire façade or just the top of the windows.  They can obstruct some sunlight while redirecting natural light into the building.  Vertical fins are especially effective in enhancing a building’s façade in a visually appealing and sustainable way.

         Another type of sunshade that is found on the inside of the exterior wall, light shelves, are devices that control sunlight while also contributing to aesthetics, sustainable design, and the comfort of those who occupy the building.  Light shelves can come in a standard form but also be customized in a design that fits a building’s specific needs.  To help reduce the need for artificial light inside buildings, light shelves contain a highly reflective surface that deflects daylight onto the ceiling of a building’s interior.

         The reduction of heat and glare from the sun also results in a lower demand for air conditioning, which can have a significant impact on energy bills.  On top of the cost savings, these systems can also contribute to LEED certification point qualification, making them an excellent choice for sustainable building projects. 

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