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Protecting shoppers from monsoon rains

Features | August 1, 2019 | By:

By Bruce N. Wright, AIA

The feeling is nothing short of amazing, say patrons of La Isla Mérida, the biggest shopping mall in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, where the streets between stores are covered completely with a transparent membrane. The city of Mérida, located near the northern coast of the Yucatán facing the Gulf of Mexico, is geographically on a parallel with the renowned resort town Cancun to its east and is climatologically similar.

With little difference between seasons and a mean annual temperature of 81 degrees F, the area has a monsoon rainy season from May to late October, hence the need for enclosure. “With a 76 percent humidity in the rainy season,” says Nicholas Goldsmith, of FTL Design Engineering Studio, tensile consultants to the project, “single skin fabrics were clearly not the way to go. We decided to use a double-layer ETFE [ethylene tetrafluoroethylene] foil cushion which could be sealed and air conditioned inside for the shoppers’ comfort.” 

As La Isla has 12,000 square meters of walkways on two levels, the see-through roof contributes to an ambience suggesting a small town. A series of arches bridge the rooflines of each building to support the more than 120 ETFE pillows covering and sealing the interior.

“In the design process,” says Goldsmith, “we enlarged the spaces of stasis, including the entry areas and intersections of the barrel vaults, as we wanted to change the hierarchy and create moments of focus for shoppers.” For Lonas Lorenzo SA de CV, Guadalajara, tensile specialists charged with enclosing the mall, ETFE film was the perfect material to span the variable widths among the street architecture.

This project won an Award of Excellence in IFAI’s 2018 International Achievement Awards competition.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is an architect, teacher, consultant to architects and designers and a frequent contributor to Specialty Fabrics Review, Fabric Architectureand Advanced Textiles Source.

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