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Shopping center features towering tensile membrane structures

Exteriors, Features | November 1, 2011 | By:

Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City prove the benefit of integrating shade with commerce

Shop ’til you drop” took on new meaning with the spectacular August opening of The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City. By noon on a 110-degree Friday, approximately 45,000 people had passed—both literally and metaphorically—through the gilded gates of consumerism, dispelling any notions of a struggling economy. With more than 90 stores offering apparel, housewares, kids, footwear, specialties and accessories, and at least six restaurants, what was not to want?

One critical component to making an Oklahoma City Shoppes-a-thon pleasant, rather than preposterous, are four towering tensile membrane structures. Suggesting pagodas, the slightly rakish forms were built by Structurflex of white Ferrari 1002 T2, all 4,680m2 of it. They elevate between and above the buildings and rise like snow-capped mountains when seen from nearby roadways.

While green design may not have been a stated priority of Adams + Associates Architecture, Mooresville, N.C., the structures shield shoppers from the unrelenting sun or rain, while still allowing for needed ventilation and filtered light. The canopies also shade the vibrantly hued stores below, thereby reducing solar gain. And the PVC is recyclable.

Initially, the design called for seven such structures, but the recession in 2008 dictated the project be scaled back to four. Nevertheless, the canopies collectively forge an iconic design strategy for the site. Four center steel masts and 14 side columns that connect to the building roofs via steel cables support the canopies. To increase the appeal, all have LED light rings at the pinnacle of the masts that create a soft beacon effect in the evening.

As graceful and deceptively simple as the canopies look, there were design and installation hurdles. “Initially, the structures were intended to all be identical in geometry,” says Bart Dreiling, president of North and South American operations at Structurflex. “But issues with the connecting points of surrounding buildings required four unique sets of geometry.” According to Tim McFadden, senior project manager of American operations at Structurflex, “One of the buildings was actually skewed and off by two feet so it was good that we had a survey done. This required the re-patterning of all of the structures, which was time consuming.”

Issues continued. “Interferences with steel mechanical bridges between the buildings made the installation of two of the structures much more difficult,” adds McFadden. “For these we used 20-ft high scaffolding to elevate the entire canopy above the mechanical bridges before we could start tensioning the fabric.”

If an outlet mall can be elegant and upbeat, The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City is it. “Without the structures, it would appear to be just another ordinary outlet mall dropped onto an open site in the Midwest,” says Dreiling. No kidding.ÊSpending money rarely looks so good.

Contributing editor, Mason Riddle writes about art, design and architecture for numerous national and regional journals.

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