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Semi-circular awning helps spruce up old warehouse

Exteriors, Features | January 1, 2009 | By:

Transforming a tired brick box into a lively center for selling tires.

When Chicago architect Terri Johnson got the call from a client to spruce up an old warehouse, she assumed the job would be straightforward. What she found at the project site in Hammond, Ind., was an extremely plain, windowless 50 year-old concrete block structure with not much going for it. “It was pretty bleak!” says Johnson. “And with the proverbial tight budget, that ruled out using a structural engineer to try and shape the building in any interesting way.” Essentially, she was left with paint and some minimal door treatments.

What Johnson came up with for Antioch Tire is an inspired solution using a colorful half-round fabric awning over the entrance to focus the attention where it counted, bright paint on the building itself, and rectangular fabric panels rhythmically spaced along the length of the façade like framed paintings in an art gallery.

Although the semi-circular awning looks simple, it was a challenge to fabricate, says David Ausema, project manager for Chesterfield Awning Co., South Holland, Ill., the fabricator of all the fabric clad elements. “The front rim of the awning has a loose valance, but to lay out the fabric panels so they would line up properly with the overhead supports and hidden brackets underneath posed a challenge.” The awning is about 8.5m wide with a 1.8m drop and 1.68m projection. The framed fabric panels are light aluminum channel boxes with the same fabric as the awning stretched and stapled taut over the frames — not unlike a painter’s canvas — and mounted to the wall by hidden brackets.

“The client was a little nervous about all the color,” says Johnson, but grew to like it. And the new look has given business a boost, not the least because it is easily seen from the highway nearby. Perhaps it may also benefit from the subtle imagery of the half-round awning and vertical stripes of the picture frames. “It’s not too unreasonable to imagine the awning is half of a tire sticking out of the façade at an angle,” says Johnson, “and the striped patterns as tire treads.”

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