Steel windows meet aesthetic aspirations at St Albans Cathedral

Sympathetically connecting the grade I listed cathedral building to its 1980s chapter house, the new welcome centre at St Albans Cathedral provides a visitor entrance, retail space, interpretation and exhibition areas and other facilities. The architecture is respectfully understated with steel windows by Steel Window Association member, Steel Window Services and Supplies helping to achieve the overall aesthetic.

The context of the historic Norman cathedral site demanded careful consideration of the materials palette. The existing cathedral and chapter house buildings feature metal-framed and leaded windows. It was felt that the new welcome centre extension should complement the existing fabric yet be easily recognisable as a modern intervention.

The new extension is low-slung so as not to compete with the massing of the cathedral building. An important feature of the front facade is a triptych of vertical steel windows which, at over 2.5m high, are mirrored on the opposite side of the building.

Perimeter roof glazing provides a light touch connection between new and old while giving an airy feel to the internal spaces. To achieve this, Steel Window Services and Supplies provided a high-level window of 12 sections measuring some 14m wide and 670mm high and another of four sections measuring over 3m wide and 935mm high.

In all, eight W40 composite windows and one W20 standard metal window were supplied, with installation on site taking around two weeks. All the windows were hot dipped galvanised and finished with a factory applied powder coating in RAL 7016, anthracite grey.

Steel windows are a characteristic feature of many early-20th Century houses and many are still giving as good a service as the day they were installed.

Today, despite the arrival of new materials, steel windows still offer excellent performance and value, while inherent strength means that they are secure and vandal resistant.

For the past 60 years it has been standard practice for all steel windows to be fully galvanized. They do not rust; and with modern factory-applied polyester powder coatings, neither do they need re-painting for at least 20 years.

One of the enduring attractions of steel windows, for homeowners as well as designers, is their visual appeal. Their slender sight-lines and elegant frame details enhance the appearance of many new buildings and are considered essential to preserve the appearance of classic 1930s architecture.

These key design features are still retained, even when the windows are glazed with modern energy-efficient sealed units. In fact, steel windows can achieve up to 1.5 W/m2K 'U' values using W40 steel profiles with triple-glazed units; W30 window profiles with double-glazed units achieve a BFRC-accredited 'B' energy rating based on the standard reference window measurement.

Indeed, Conservation Officers often insist on steel windows where other materials would be inappropriate.

Since today’s steel windows are all made from recycled steel and are themselves recyclable, they are one of the greenest building products available.

The member companies of the Steel Window Association are able to provide clients both comprehensive repair services, as well as ‘replica refurbishment’ for ageing metal frames, depending on condition and planning or listed building status.

Many specifications and orders received by members of the Steel Window Association are prompted by a project’s need for strength and security – physical characteristics where steel frames are unmatched amongst fenestration solutions – yet there are countless others where the client has been attracted by the distinctive sightlines and an appearance that is synonymous with certain architectural styles.

Indeed, steel window frames are integral to the Art Deco era properties when designers rarely detailed any alternative fenestration option; while those fortunate enough to own warehouse apartments anywhere from the Thames to the Tyne are likely to look out at the river traffic through steel frames.

The slender sight-lines also translate into the maximisation of natural daylight which pays dividends in the energy equation and motivates many architects seeking that link between indoor and outdoor space. So, the large span screens which can be produced using steel sections often grace bespoke dwellings.

The manufacturers which the Steel Window Association represents are able to finish their frames in the full range of RAL colours, though they can also look stunning in their raw galvanized coating.  

Fully weather stripped and protected against the long-term effects of even the most hostile environments, steel windows remain relevant to new build as well as refurbishment contracts, while contributing their own, unique styling.

The beauty and practicality of steel window systems are displayed on the stylish website of the industry’s representative body, the Steel Window Association.

Combining simplicity, clarity and attractive architectural photography with technical advice and the latest news from member companies, the new website contains everything that designers, specifiers and contractors need to understand what today’s steel windows can achieve.

The site employs a straightforward layout with clear pointers for users interested in either domestic or commercial applications.

The history of steel windows, their place in British architectural history and their evolution into today’s  high-quality, high-performance products are all briefly and concisely explained in the section focusing on domestic applications. Here, users will also find a guide to SWA members in their area as well as an enquiry form for  further information and advice.

Membership of the SWA is open to all manufacturers, installers and suppliers of steel windows or doors. Besides enjoying the advantages of belonging to a recognised trade association, membership provides access to sales enquiries, keeps companies abreast of product development, provides a voice in the drafting of building regulations and much more.

For further information on the Steel Window Association or if you’re interested in becoming member, please visit



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