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Refurbishment work on one of the Royal College of Art's main campus buildings in London has provided a snapshot of the way that steel windows have developed over the past century, while greatly improving both the thermal performance of the property.

Steel Window Association member company, West Leigh was awarded the contract to replace all the old style Universal Suite section windows on the Darwin Building following a detailed tender process with the Royal College of Art's Buildings and Estates Department. C B Richard Ellis were the building surveyors acting as project managers for the contract.

The scope of the work involved removing the old single glazed frames and installing new windows fabricated using either the W20 or W40 systems.

The long established W20 sections were employed to replicate the fenestration which had for years filled the openings on the main eight storey tower block to the Darwin Building, with both top hung and vertical pivot opening lights being provided within the height of each of the composites which were up to 3.6 metres tall.

For one elevation of the ‘Common Block’ however, the specification was switched to the next generation, W40 system because of its ability to take larger glazing sections. Therefore instead of the 4-8-4 sealed units, which with their low-E coatings and Krypton gas filling already satisfy Part L of the Building Regulations, thicker 26 mm units were fitted.

Although this does deliver both thermal and acoustic benefits, the primary reason for the switch was the very large pane size which had to be replicated, and the risk that wind pressure or other factors can cause the two glass leafs to touch. These windows featured a mix of vertical pivots and top hung open out vents as well as fixed lights.

The Head of Building and Estates for the Royal College of Art, Mr Simon Levine, reflects: “The Darwin Building, our main teaching building, was completed in 1961 and the steel windows are a key element to its architectural styling. We therefore went out to tender to three specialist manufacturers for their replacement and appointed West Leigh after lengthy consideration of the different elements to the work being quoted for”.

Not only did West Leigh remove all the old frames on this contract, but it also carried out all of the making good internally and externally to the building once installation of the new windows was complete.

All the windows fitted were hot dip galvanized and finished with a RAL 9005 matt black polyester powder coat.