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Fabric protection for new cars

Features, News | April 1, 2015 | By:

An auto dealer shade saddle shades cars and people, and offers a sustainable extra.

By Bruce N. Wright, AIA

Wolfsburg, Germany, located about 65 km east of Hannover, could be considered the Disneyworld of the automobile industry. The VW Autostadt is designed like a theme park with eight “pavilions” that house VW’s various car brands along with an all-terrain track — sort of a racetrack for the average citizen to play “pro” in a safe place.

Perhaps the most controlled-experience pavilion at the Wolfsburg site is the “Ausfahrt” (Exit pavilion) where VW owners are invited to pick up their new cars while being entertained, as well as be instructed on the finer points of any new technologies the automakers have introduced to their latest models.

0415_f2_1According to the Autostadt website, customers can “try out new technical systems, get thoroughly briefed by technical experts” on their car of choice, and try the Lap of Honor, a short 315 m (a little more than 0.25 mile) loop track where owners “practice driving with a trailer or try out technical features, including traffic sign recognition software, start-stop system, or hill start assist.”

The area set aside for the Ausfahrt pavilion covers 15,000 sq m and was built in 10 months. Landscape architects WES LandschaftArchitecktur seamlessly integrated the pavilion into the larger Autostadt Park and emphasized a dense urban quality with manicured grounds and hedgerows, a suburban office-park-like environment with snaking roads.

Shading the focal point of the Ausfahrt is a dramatic, saddle-shaped shade structure in front of the Customer Center (KundenCenter) that provides protection from sun and rain. Designed and developed by Taiyo Europe GmbH in collaboration with Berlin-based GRAFT architects, the double-contoured form is anchored on two points and resembles a giant leaf protecting the ground.

0415_f2_2The classic saddle shape of the structure has two low points (touching the ground at the sides and anchoring the structure) and two opposite high points, one of which is about three meters higher than the other. The PTFE-coated glass fiber membrane roof is supported by a cable net grid held in place by a circular steel curved rim beam that defines an elliptical area of about 1,600 sq m, in a length-to-width ratio of approximately 55 m by 38 m. Fabric used is Sheerfill II by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., and the cable net is stainless steel.

For a sustainable extra, a drain gutter is subtly integrated into the perimeter of the steel rim beam, carrying rainwater and melting snow down to the anchor points at the sides and into landscaping that surrounds the pavilion. As the fabric is translucent, the shaded area underneath the roof remains quite bright even on overcast days.

“As with automobiles, every shape had to be reworked until perfection,” says Alice Heyland, project manager with Taiyo Europe. “Together with the architect and structural engineers, we had to make the structure work to the client’s high standards of approvals and certificates. We are very happy with the outcome, as this achievement is due to the hard work of the entire team.”

The project won a 2014 Award of Excellence for tensile structures 600–2,300 sq m category of the International Achievement Awards from the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, a licensed architect, is a media consultant to architects, engineers and designers, and writes frequently about fabric-based design.

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