Magazine

Fabric Shade Systems For Airport Parking: 'Changing The Mind-Set Of An Industry'

Jay Jensen

While the United States has been slow to use fabric structures to cover parking lots, they are beginning to appear all over the country at long-term parking at airports.
Today's architect has a tough decision to make when it comes to creating structures for covering automobiles. Steel, glass, concrete and wood structures are being used for porte-cocheres, carports and garages. However, more and more architects and owners are realizing that architectural-grade fabric is an ideal solution. As a result, fabric structures are fast becoming a visible part of the "transportation architecture."
Not that they're a new form of shelter. Fabric structures have been designed to cover people, animals and man's newest best friend, the automobile. They have taken center stage at car dealerships, rental car facilities and airport parking establishments.
The airiness, the diffused light and the eye-popping designs of fabric structures - not to mention the affordability of being 35% to 45% lighter than their solid-roofed counterparts - are catching on.
"With the lower price tag that accompanies most fabric structures and the appeal of their temperature-cooling properties, fabric shade structures are appearing at recreational facilities, water parks and increasingly at auto dealerships and airports," said Basil Haymann, CEO of USA Shade & Fabric Structures, Inc., the largest shade manufacturer in the US.
Synthetic materials such as polyethylene are used in most fabric structures today, making them fade- and tatter-resistant, strong beyond belief, and able to block out up to 95% of the sun's harmful UVB rays. The latest materials also boast a waterproof feature. And creative engineering has enabled them to bear significant wind loads.
Haymann noted: "Fabric structures do something solid-roofed structures cannot -- they breathe." Fabric is permeable, so as hot air rises through it, that reduces the temperatures under the structures by as much as 15 degrees. "Fabric architecture pioneered in Australia and South Africa [up to] 40 years ago creates a natural air-conditioning system for brutal climates."
"The systems offer shade without creating an atmosphere of darkness, since they are able to allow reduced levels of light, while blocking heat and sun," said Gary Hedges, Director of Revenue Management at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Fabric also can soften the clinical feel of hard walls, bare concrete and floor materials. "Fabrics offer an immediate impact on passersby and reinforce a long-term positive association with a specific locale or area," said Erasmo Nava, partner at SolkaNavaTorno, architects for the Corpus Christi (TX) International Airport shade system project.
Vehicle Protection
While the United States has been slow to use fabric structures for parking lots (except for dealerships), they are beginning to appear at airports in long-term parking, in departure and arrival areas, and at bus and shuttle stops.
And let's not forget the pedestrian. Some fabrics can withstand extreme weather conditions: wind loads of more than 110 mph, hail and heavy snow loads, and extreme temperatures.
Auto dealerships in Texas have learned that the structures they purchased to protect their inventory from hailstorms also cut insurance rates by thousands of dollars. "Our shade systems are constructed of a high-density, polyethylene, manmade fabric that causes softball-size hail to simply bounce off," Haymann said.
In the hotter climates, exposed parking areas are prone to heat buildup because of the vehicles and the dark, paved surfaces, which are commonly made of heat-holding materials. Adding shade structures to the parking areas extends the life of the lot by protecting it from heat, rain and hail. Vehicles are also protected, and for retail and commercial zones, shading keeps customers and employees more comfortable.
"Temperatures underneath fabric shade structures can be more than 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding air," said Haymann.
"At the end of the day after traveling across the country," said DFW's Hedges, "our visitors who parked under the protective shade systems can expect to return to a much cooler vehicle than the ones not covered."
According to Bruce Wright, editor of Fabric Architecture magazine, architects are increasingly recognizing the need for shading, which in turn has led to greater use of shading elements on buildings. Part of that can be attributed to the increasing demand by building regulation authorities for sustainable design responses from developers and builders. Architects are finding that fabric shading elements can be an economical and practical method of meeting those requirements.
Fabric structures have very few components. In most cases, they are just steel, fabric, cables and hardware. The choice for each component affects the others. Issues also include span, size, availability, cost and building codes.
Additional Uses
Fabric structures also are ideal temporary solutions during construction or phasing of large-scale developments. They can be easily moved and are designed in a systems approach so modules can be added or subtracted as necessary.
Today, more and more fabric structures are being designed for shade only. Structural mesh and perforated fabrics are being specified because of the need for shade, the need to allow the elements to go through the material and the need for a space to "see through and be seen."
Let's not forget the architectural aesthetic quality of a fabric structure. Light and aerodynamic, these structures -- designed and engineered for local building codes -- provide a lasting impression. They can transform existing space, provide a focal point for new construction or be the theme for an entire project.
"The new shade systems at our north lot parking added not only to the number of covered parking spaces, but to the aesthetics of the building as well," said DFW's Hedges.
"The reaction of our visitors [at Corpus Christi airport] has been very positive," said architect Nava. "Aesthetic qualities increase the value of the fabric covers, as they add to the overall attractiveness of a site. It makes the plain Jane parking lot appear more artsy."
Shade systems for airport parking can be designed in a variety of fabrics and colors to cover a number of different assets.
"The bright colors available and the potential design possibilities widen construction choices," Haymann said, "since the covers can be a marketing tool, as well as a facility amenity."

Jay Jensen is Marketing Director for USA Shade & Fabric Structures, Inc. He can be reached at Jay4USAShade@aol.com.

Article Abstract from April, 2005




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