Lead images: Tensile mesh used at the Melbourne School of Design
About 60 years ago, an architect realised that the woven wire mesh produced by US conveyor belt manufacturer Cambridge International could be used as a unique alternative to traditional building products. In 1958, New York City’s Seagram Building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson opened to the public, featuring elevator interiors clad in woven metal mesh produced by Cambridge that would last over 60 years.
Today, mesh and its cousin the perforated architectural panel are one of the materials architects reach for when they design, and not just when the projects are fences and lockers. From being used as a safety barrier between floors at the John Wardle Architects and NADAAA-designed Melbourne School of Design, to canopies that shelter and create a ‘moiré’ effect for a community library, and even to diversify the views and rhythm of a student housing project in Paris, both architectural mesh and perforated panels can be employed for a wide range of applications, including on facades, although it remains an “underutilised” material when compared to the big guns of concrete, brick and steel.
Basket Apartments by OFIS in Paris. Image: Tomaz Gregoric. Source: OFIS
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For Kayne Horsham, founder of New Zealand architectural mesh company Kaynemaile, mesh has really shown its value around benefits such as solar gain, privacy and views (a contradiction that actually holds true for some of the mesh and perforated products). It also has aesthetical advantages, including adding vibrancy to a building or covering up old, dated joinery during a retrofit without incurring huge costs.
“If you’re using a plaster finish, or what I would call more traditional finish, you’ll typically have a 2D surface, whereas with mesh you get a textural effect and reflectivity. It can also mean that at different times of the day, the light reflects differently [on the façade], so the building is not a static object but something that’s interacting with the environment,” says Horsham.
“Other benefits include maintaining a view, letting airflow pass through because a space needs to be maintained as an external environment, and blocking out most of the rain and decreasing the speed of wind.”
Kaynemaile's Building-Armour used on Coco California, an Australian boutique.
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However, not every mesh and perforated range on the market is interchangeable, or even suitable for all applications. For instance, using a stainless steel product near the ocean or saltwater can be “a nightmare”, while using a mesh that is too ‘open’ for a car park could lead to too much car headlights flashing across nearby residential towers.
So how do I decide which mesh is right for me?
^ Building-Armour facade for solar control by New Zealand Architect Thomas Chong Architect Ltd and BMC Architecture. Installation: GRD Developments. Mesh Colour: Bronze. Images: Kaynemaile
One of the biggest questions to ask the product manufacturer before selecting your facade then is how the product will be used. This opens up discussions about whether a denser tensioned mesh or a perforated panel with less ‘apertures’ (holes) is better, and leads to a deeper understanding of the performance requirements demanded of a façade system. For example, Locker Group’s Group Marketing Manager Carli Barnes says architects should be looking at the fixing system and implied load that will be put on to the support structure by a perforated panel facade, as well as the wind loads particularly on the corners of buildings.
“Architects should be looking at how the façade interacts with the structure of the building to develop a well resolved solution while meeting the engineering requirements,” says Barnes.
^ John Curtin College of the Arts by JCY Architects features a perforated metal facade by Locker Group
The applicable standards here include:
- AS/NZS 1170.0:2002 – Structural Design Actions Part 0: General Principles.
- AS/NZS 1170.1:2002 – Structural Design Actions Part 1: Permanent, Imposed and Other Actions.
- AS/NZS 1170.1:2011 – Structural Design Actions Part 2: Wind Actions.
- AS 1657:1992 – Fixed Platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders
- AS4100: 1998 – Steel Structures.
- AS/NZS 4673:2001 Cold Formed Stainless Steel Structures.
- BS EN 1990:2002 Eurocode – Basis of structural design.
- AS/NZS 1664.1:1997 Aluminium Structures Part 1 Limit State Design.
- BCA Volumes 1 & 2
- Recommended maintained illuminances for various activities (AS 1680.1:2006)
AS/NZS 1170 is the main standard in terms of the load requirements that need to be met, and it is important to ensure that the mesh manufacturer can provide test certificates for completed products.
“It is often the case that they provide, say a break load for the wire, but not for the nodes that connect the wires,” says Tensile’s Business Development Manager, Peter Bottero. “This node is the weakest link so if this hasn't been tested when you have someone relying on your barrier, it is a big risk.”
Other elements to consider before specification include site access – whether the product is easily installed or if it will require cranes – and how the materials will age. Steel perforated panels for example, rely on powder coatings or paint to protect them from the elements, while stainless steel requires clean water to ‘wash away’ the salts and glutens on a building to prevent tea-staining, a brown surface rust commonly seen in coastal applications or humid areas. Aluminium oxidises naturally unless it is anodised or powder coated, and polycarbonate too ages or discolours eventually.
Regardless of the design and project requirements, Bottero says that the best results will be borne out of a close working relationship with the mesh or perforated panel manufacturer from the outset:
“If it is designed into a project in isolation you are in for either a rough ride on site, or a budget blowout. The best projects for us are where we are brought in early and work collaboratively with the design team. Doing it this way allows us to remove many of the common pitfalls and ensure that the end result is an efficient system that works as an overall structural solution.”