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Tensile canopy protects public at new Ikea store

Exteriors, Features | January 1, 2011 | By:

You could say that Southampton is ruled by the sea. The Southampton Water estuary that fronts the harbor—and that flows past the Isle of Wight and thus to the English Channel—exerts tremendous influence on the physiognomy of this city of some 500,000 people, a bustling metropolis ranked 13th in the U.K. for shopping.

Southampton’s docks have seen at least two famous ships in its long history: the Mayflower and the Titanic. To this day, Southampton is home port for the transatlantic passenger service operator Cunard Line. Not far from these historic maritime locations is a recently developed commercial zone, the WestQuay Retail Park where an Ikea home furnishings store was completed in 2009.

Visible from many key locations throughout Southampton, and within a quarter mile of Mayflower Park, Ikea Southampton provides many benefits to its customers, not the least of which is shelter from inclement weather at the store’s entrance. The most visibly prominent feature is a tensioned fabric canopy whose wavelike forms suggest the tidal waters that lap at the city’s docks.

Situated between the store proper and an adjacent multistoried car park, the 14m wide by 72m long canopy covers a 9m-wide gap between the main building mass and the car park. Inserted in the 9m gap are a series of moving walkways that carry shoppers up from the store’s checkouts at ground level to each level of the car park.

According to Fabric Architecture Ltd., the canopy fabricator, drainage of rainwater was a key design influence on the ultimate form of the Ikea canopy (average rainfall can attain more than 850mm per year). Notably, an integral rainwater management system also provides support to the undulating entrance canopy. A marvel of efficiency, the canopy’s edges and cross-bracing are constructed from steel sections that work both as gutters and structural support for tensioning the fabric membrane.

The canopy is created by two identical waves—the front and back edges—that are offset by a full cycle. That is, the high point of each front wave is aligned with the low point of each back wave. This produces a more efficient control of moisture runoff, directing it to the internal guttering system.

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