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Designing entrances

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There are many types of entryways, depending on the essential function they need to fulfill. Prime, of course, is the need to shelter people from the sun and weather as they enter and exit a building. Other important types might be dramatic (such as this colorful tensioned fabric entryway covering the main entrance of the École de cirque de Québec); practical, where economy of means and design are called for; historic where an entryway must comply with strict historic designation requirements; contemporary, to express current fashion or social trends; and graphic, where color and typography predominate.

“Color is the number one opportunity to convey a message about a building,” says John Gant, manager of sustainability for Glen Raven. “It enables the designer to communicate what the building is about. Color first catches your attention and draws your eye toward the building, and then allows you to understand, in a subtle way, what type of company and people are there.

“A fabric canopy comes with the capability of interchangeable color and graphics at a lower cost [than steel and concrete canopies] and this is especially helpful for retail installations,” Gant says. Instead of investing in the more massive object of the steel canopy, cost savings can be used for efficient use of materials and higher impact imagery. Updating a canopy for current use is especially important for retail to maintain an edge in marketing. Printed fabric is easily switched out and yet is still highly durable and always contemporary.

“The challenge is convincing clients that, although the ability to quickly update a canopy comes with the connotation of temporary, the material is still very durable,” Gant says. Most awning and canopy fabrics come with a 10-year product warranty, far longer than most retail needs in today’s volatile and competitive environment. With proper maintenance, fabric canopies can last much longer.

“If I could advise an architect on using fabric for a canopy or entryway it would be to make the scale of the canopy as large and significant as possible so that it functions as it really should,” Gant says. “This is especially true if the canopy is intended to shelter visitors from rain and sun. Designers and building owners are often underestimating the appropriate size of a canopy, which means it may not provide adequate shade or shelter. With the comfort and safety of customers and employees in mind, making the entryway large—large enough to do the job right—is a fractional increase in cost compared to the cost of an inadequately sized entry.”

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is an architect/journalist and the former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine.

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