What is the perfect complement to a high-end residential backyard remodel? A custom-designed shade sail, of course. Red Rock Contractors of Mesa, Ariz., was working on just such a remodel when its client decided to include a fabric shade structure in their plans for a new backyard. SHADE Industries of Phoenix, Ariz., was brought in to provide structural consultation, design assistance, connection details, and custom shade sails for two large cantilevered structures included in the project. The finished fabric structure provides utilitarian and aesthetic qualities to the backyard space by providing shade for residents during the day, and a lighted focal point at the end of a swimming pool in the evening.
To provide structural support for the shade sails that blended into the chic distressed-industrial design of the home and yard, Red Rock Contractors installed naturally rusted, cantilevered I-beams embedded into raised concrete caissons. The shade sails needed to extend over a pool deck and barbeque area to provide afternoon shade and visual appeal.
“The contractor had plans for the structural elements of the shade sail sketched out, but didn’t have details for the fabric or how it would be installed,” says Conrad Masterson of SHADE Industries. “We were brought in on the design process after some of the structural steel had already been installed, so we had to come up with a plan to work with what was there.”
The structural steel proved to be one of the most unique challenges Masterson faced. The I-beams were a key component in the project’s design, but were unable to bear the stress of the tensioned fabric by themselves. “To work with the I-beams, we needed to include another structural component,” Masterson says. “I-beams are typically kind of contrary to tensioned fabric. They twist and bend, and so we worked with the contractor and client on a design that would include the I-beams they wanted, but would also work with a piece of fabric.”
Masterson’s solution was to incorporate an arched steel tube above the I-beams that would add rigidity to the structure and keep the beams from twisting and bending under the load of the tensioned fabric. The resulting design’s unobtrusive rod was site welded to the top of the structure and powder coated to blend in with the natural rusting of the I-beams.
“We custom bent and fabricated the rod so, at most angles, it is not noticeable,” Masterson says. “The powder coating allowed it to blend in with the aesthetic of the other elements of the remodel, but eliminated the risk of staining on the fabric that natural rust could have posed.”
Masterson and his team used 3D renderings to determine the arc and span of the steel tube, as well as the connecting points. “We placed the tube and connecting points where we thought they couldn’t be seen,” he explains. “The arch worked well, giving us more clearance in the middle, and tighter tension on the lower connecting points. It sits just above the structure and isn’t raised up too high where it would distract from the fabric.”
After deliberating over five different textiles, Commercial 95 fabric from Gale Pacific USA Inc., of Altamonte Springs, Fla., in a navy blue was chosen for the sails. Masterson worked with the client to narrow down the choices based on aesthetic and functional properties. “They wanted a porous fabric that wouldn’t trap heat and wouldn’t hold any water,” Masterson says. “Even though the fabric is at a slight angle, the client didn’t want to worry about any ponding issues. They also like that the fabric creates a slight translucency. You can just barely see through it, which made the atmosphere feel less enclosed.”
The fabric has a quarter-inch stainless steel tensioned perimeter cable sewn into a pocket along its border, providing shape and tension. The corners are reinforced at each anchor point and are attached with stainless steel hardware to anchor plates on the steel beams.
To tension and hold the fabric, steel anchor plates were welded onto tabs along the I-beams. Cut steel plates were used to accent the distressed-industrial design. “We used half rounds of cut steel,” Masterson says, “when we would more often use an eye bolt.”
Ongoing remodeling was happening during the design and installation of the shade sail structure and the sail itself, which made installation a challenge. The SHADE Industries team had limited ground access to the installation site due to tile setting, trees, and pool construction.
“We used two different 80-foot boom lifts throughout the installation,” Masterson says. “The lifts allowed us to reach outside the patio area to place the steel and weld the support structure and the anchor points. We used an on-site portable arc welder in one lift, and the other lift to hold the steel in place while we worked on it. We didn’t have many opportunities to use ladders, so a lot of coordination was required.”
A formal business relationship between SHADE Industries and Red Rock Contractors developed at the conclusion of the project. The homeowners loved the shade sail, and are enjoying their summer days by the pool in the shade. The project won a 2015 IAA Outstanding Achievement Award.
Jake Kulju, a resident of Shafer, Minn., is a frequent contributor to Fabric Architecture.