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Corporate headquarters features solar screening system

Case Studies, Features | January 1, 2009 | By:

The addition of exterior fabric shades completes the headquarters for a Midwestern agribusiness.

“I am amazed at the number of different industry leaders that were involved to make this project a success,” says Bob Helmsing, vice president of Lawrence Fabric Structures, a company he owned for 28 years until 2006. “It was truly a collaborative effort between the client, Solae Company, the design/build contractor Clayco, Cannon Design architect Dan Stewart and engineer Michael White. It wasn’t just a matter of ordering Solae’s solar screens off the shelf.”

Indeed, it was not.

Solae, one of the largest producers of soy ingredient research and product in the world, wanted a solar screening system for its new corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Mo. Located on the Campus of Cortex — an emerging life sciences and research zone between the Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University Medical Campus and Saint Louis University — the design-build facility consolidated Solae’s business operations into one central facility. The state-of-the-art headquarters and research center comprises 6,300m2 of office space, 7,200m2 of pilot plant. With a critical eye to reducing its environmental footprint in the process of pursuing LEED® certification, Solae’s challenge was to minimize sunlight, glare and solar gain on the building’s east-facing glass wall without sacrificing a clean, modernist design aesthetic.

The solution was to design and engineer 36 mesh solar panels, each measuring 1.5m wide and 13.7m tall, that would span the building’s four stories. The job was first bid using a perforated metal wall, not a tensioned fabric. Cost and aesthetics turned the project development toward fabric. “We went after strength, durability and appearance,” says Helmsing. “We needed a very strong fabric that could be sized exactly to the window measurement, precise engineering to compute the wind loads and the screen angle of the fixed panels, and we also had to design the steel frame and tensioning hardware — a very labor intensive, collaborative effort.”

Easier said than done. All of the components had to be determined at the outset because the screening system needed to be part of the original building design. This was not a solar panel system that could be retrofitted to the building. The fabric chosen was Precontraint Stamisol® FT 371 (Silver Metallic) by Ferrari Textiles Corp., a product that has since been modified.

To avoid error and any surprises during installation and use, the architect, contractor, engineer and Lawrence Fabric Structures worked closely with the client and designed a prototype for Solae to review and approve. The prototype, made of the Ferrari fabric and employing a very heavy tensioning hardware, measured 3.05m high and was fitted to an actual window section of the type used for the building, ensuring the design had the exact appearance and function the customer wanted. The design was approved and Solae officials selected the metallic silver grey color for the screen.

“It was a progression in learning to tension the panels, with a lot of trial and error,” explains Helmsing. “We had to measure the exact pull of the cable to get the wrinkles out of the fabric.” Replacing the panels will be a much easier process than the original installation because the hardware is already in place.

Mason Riddle is a contributing writer for Fabric Architecture. Her review of the Techno Textile exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design appeared in the Sept/Oct issue.

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