Walk down any main street in America, and the first thing that draws the eye are the colorful and lively storefronts of the shops and businesses lining the road. While skyscrapers might define a city from a distance, what distinguishes neighborhoods at street level are the styles and architectural features of its storefronts.
Long before we came to know cities by their signs, lights, and window displays, the first settlements and burgeoning townships of early America began to coalesce around centers of trade and industry. Scarcely distinguishable from their residential neighbors, the shops of 18th century America alerted potential customers to their wares through signs and awnings, with windows and doors that drew no more prominence than those of main street homes. By the 19th century, larger commercial buildings had more distinct ground floor façades, with regularly spaced stone or brick piers and larger windows made up of small panes, though entrances still held little special prominence in the design.
With the advent of architectural cast iron in the later part of the 19th century, combined with advances in glass manufacturing, storefront design was revolutionized. Slender metal columns and large areas of glass enabled shopkeepers to readily advertise their merchandise, with daylight reaching far into the space to illuminate the shop within. So began the modern commercial district: bright, expansively windowed storefronts collected along main thoroughfares, establishing what would become the central organizing feature of cities and towns.
Based on the information presented in this article, readers should be able to:
• Identify the defining features and components of storefront assemblies and distinguish them from curtain wall and window wall systems.
• Apply design considerations such as thermal performance, wind load, moisture penetration, resiliency, and safety to the design and rehabilitation of storefront facade systems.
• Evaluate and treat deterioration and distress in storefronts by classifying conditions and weighing repair-or-replace criteria, including historic significance, aesthetics, and energy performance.
• Specify a program of performance testing for proposed storefront configurations that meets code requirements and confirms that the assembly performs as expected.