Britain seeks stake in future of medieval design

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH construction industry will be asked today to concentrate its efforts on a medieval design concept which has been resurrected in high-tech architecture.

The sheeting that surrounds many of Britain's newest skyscraper buildings like Canary Wharf and the Nat West Tower is known as 'curtain walling' - taking its name from the perimeter wall of medieval castles, usually interspersed with towers, which provided protection for everything inside.

More and more high-rise buildings are constructed with an external skin of glass, metal or stone panels over a concrete and steel skeleton to provide a decorative, weather-proof fascia.

Demand for the product is growing, but it is not a field in which Britain has competed effectively and the vast majority has to be imported. That, however, may be about to change.

Dr Stephen Ledbetter, director of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology - which was set up in 1987 to address what the National Economic Development Office identified as a significant economic problem - will today launch a British standard for the product.

Dr Ledbetter, who will make his presentation at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster, said: 'Now we have a standard that can assess if curtain walls are airtight, watertight, keep out noise, wind, and how well walls perform.'

The intention is that UK manufacturers will now be able to market themselves abroad with an internationally recognised quality standard.

The standard was welcomed by Ken Shuttleworth, a senior partner at the architecture firm, Sir Norman Foster and Partners. He said: 'Most curtain walls come from abroad, and maybe this will encourage British manufacturers to challenge that.

'At the moment, the Germans, French, the Austrians and the Swiss lead this field. Occasionally British firms make our tender lists but rarely win orders.

'The UK is still way behind. The new standard will undoubtedly help.'

(Photograph omitted)