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The 15,000 pounds of metal mesh that surround the University of Florida Research and Academics Center play a significant role in reducing the energy use of the LEED Platinum-certified facility.

The 15,000 pounds of metal mesh that surround the University of Florida Research and Academics Center play a significant role in reducing the energy use of the LEED Platinum-certified facility.

Throwing Shade

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

By Patrick Sisson
Images courtesy of GKD-USA

Judging a book or building by its cover can be a shallow exercise. But in the case of the University of Florida Research and Academics Center in Lake Nona, near Orlando, the interplay between the façade and the metal mesh sunshade exemplifies the structure’s thoughtful design and material mastery.

As a finishing touch to the campus addition, designed by HOK, GKD Metal Fabrics draped the 100,000-square-foot facility in a 15,000-pound web of Escale 7x1mm mesh. Stretching 10 trapezoidal panels of woven steel around the building’s compound bends and curves was a challenge, but the aesthetic and environmental effects were worth it. The sunshade plays a significant role in reducing energy use in this LEED Platinum-certified building, and the exterior, with a dramatic center cut with a glass curtain wall, already has become something of a campus icon since being finished in 2012.

“It’s one of our favorite, best-looking projects,” says Tom Bialk, a solar engineer and GKD designer. “The mesh really glows at night.”

The transparent mesh does double duty, reducing heat gain from the Florida sun and the need for mechanical cooling while retaining natural light and a campus view. That’s impressive considering the engineering and technical challenges of stretching the fabric in multiple directions over the steel supports, all while creating an exterior that can withstand the region’s hurricane-force winds. Though on the surface, it’s similar to previous GKD projects, the project team agreed that the challenge of conforming to the building’s shape made it unique.

“Custom requests like this land on our table, so to speak, all the time,” says Andy Franks, a manager at GKD. “We enjoy the engineering challenge. Architects are our best customers.”

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