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New Zealand netball center sports eco-friendly facility

January 1st, 2009 / By: / Case Studies, Feature

An eco-friendly sports facility for women filled with diffuse light.

“What is so great about this project is the seamless integration of fabric skylights with a corrugated steel building,” explains Bart Dreiling, president of American Operations for Structurflex, LLC, in Kansas City, Missouri, a company headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand. “The Netball Courts have this conventional metal construction topped by an unconventional standing seam roof with three fabric skylights. It works extremely well, functionally and aesthetically.”

Netball? New Zealand? For the uninitiated, netball is the sport for women in New Zealand and Australia, although men play it in nonprofessional and social environments. Like basketball, netball is played both indoors and outdoors on a court with nets at either end through which a ball is tossed. The high-demand facility is privately owned and operated space supported by community funding, and is the primary netball center in Auckland.

From the onset, the client had two primary demands: the netball facility needed to be built within a narrow budget, and future operating costs needed to be held to an eco-friendly, energy-consuming minimum. By virtue of the game, the three courts needed to be well illuminated for game play with a high degree of reflectivity, but without shadowing. Glass skylights would produce too much glare and solar gain.

Structurflex’s design solution was a relatively simple roofing system consisting of a spline curve roof placed on a rectangular box. The roof’s three tensioned membrane skylights, each measuring 33m by 12m are part of the building envelope. They span the metal building’s conventional, standard width, framing system and effectively replace the typical metal cladding at strategic locations in the building.

In accordance with the client’s requirements, the three skylights, fabricated from PVC-PES polyester scrim with a PVDF topcoat, provide sufficient natural daylight as well as energy savings by utilizing far more natural — rather than artificial — light. The Ferrari fabric is appropriately translucent, allowing approximately 10% of natural light to pass through its surface while reflecting about 82%. With the even and consistent diffusion of light through the white membrane surface, shadowing is minimal. Moreover, interior surfaces absorb less heat than with a glass skylight system.

However, all was not light and air in the beginning. How to successfully interface the two systems — steel structure and fabric skylights — while still achieving a watertight seal around the perimeter was a challenge. The answer was to treat the skylight framing as a conventional roof curb and employ Structurflex’s proprietary detailing that has been effective for numerous projects.

In the end, the netball facility successfully integrates two highly differing building techniques. The translucent membrane is also dramatic architecturally and thoroughly operational. The courts also demonstrate how membrane systems can be used to good effect in conventional applications. It is also an excellent example of how a membrane can be used as part of the building envelope, thereby saving construction costs and operational costs while simultaneously enhancing the building’s architecture.

“It works extremely well,” says Dreiling. “The fabric doesn’t dominate the structural design from the exterior, as do many fabric athletic facilities. Rather, its relatively low profile and graceful curve enhance the building’s simple structure and integrate it into the urban context.” In Auckland, Structurflex general manager Bernard Hyde concurs. “That natural light used over conventional indoors lighting systems gives a great feeling while playing the sport. It feels like you are outdoors.”

Mason Riddle is a contributing writer for Fabric Architecture.

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