The following article originally appeared in the October issue of Metal Architecture magazine.
The guest column was authored by Ivan Zorn, engineer and sales manager for Cambridge Architectural Mesh in Cambridge, Maryland.
An increasing number of architects and contractors are turning to manufacturers who can work with them to specify, customize, produce and install woven metal fabric to create visionary designs for a variety of projects.
What to Know About Using Custom Designed Architectural Mesh
From parking garages, pedestrian bridges and performing arts venues to hotels, hospitals, stadiums and transit hubs, designers for a diverse mix of new and renovated structures are incorporating metal mesh – a sustainable product, hand-crafted and woven on industrial looms and weaving machines for both exterior and interior applications.
And while the beauty of the woven fabric usually upstages its critical functions, metal mesh is a solution for a number of building objectives that include energy savings, privacy and security; all while contributing to LEED credits and other green objectives.
Although each metal mesh project is unique, most follow a six-step timeline that brings architects, designers, contractors, engineers and installers into the process at various points to collaborate with the fabricator.
UMASS Dartmouth Claire Carney Library facade featuring Cambridge Architectural mesh vertical panels.
Custom Mesh Exploration
As architectural firms develop initial design concepts, a team member typically reaches out to a mesh manufacturer to obtain product catalogs, basic information and explore the wide range of mesh patterns available. This is often done through the company’s website, which features a menu of mesh patterns and attachment systems to help with sample selection and conceptual development.
Custom Mesh Consultation
Following up on the initial inquiry and sample request, the manufacturer will recommend a conference call or video chat with the architect as it narrows down its design choice. This can be a critical, time saving step that should include a discussion of the designer’s vision and the functional applications the mesh is expected to perform.
Aesthetic appeal is a primary driver as the architect begins to hone in on desired mesh patterns. Important considerations for choices include the openness of the mesh’s weave – 0 to 82% – with desired sightlines into and from interior spaces being one of many determining factors.
Other design considerations could include opportunities to use colored lighting for reflective illumination; branding and graphics achieved by etching or powder-coating the mesh; and the use of decorative metals such as brass, bronze and copper as an alternative to stainless steel for interior projects. These other alloys are common for elevator cabs, lobbies, columns and handrail infill.
The conversation then turns to the functional objectives the mesh needs to achieve, whether it’s masking, solar shading, fall protection, ventilation, acoustic transparency or other uses.
With this collective information the manufacturer will steer the architect to one of two broad choices – flexible or rigid mesh. Flexible patterns include conventional, cable rod, balanced woven and flatwire. Rigid mesh styles include pre-crimped and plain weaves. It’s important to note that expanded metal and welded wire are different than mesh.
The fabricator may also recommend a pre-engineered mesh system designed for common exterior or interior applications. These include vertical fins for shading, parking screens, partitions and operable curtains. If used within standard size limitations, these systems have less structural requirements and do not need engineering consultation. They also have shorter lead times for fabrication.
Custom Mesh Design Assist
For architects pursuing a custom design, the next step is to exchange drawings and details. This will help the manufacturer’s engineers determine an appropriate attachment system for affixing the mesh to the building structure. Options may include tensioned, framed and curtain hardware.
The design assist process culminates in helping the architect obtain the correct specifications for the mesh and attachment systems. Manufacturer specifications are typically available through ARCAT, CSI and other sources.
The company will also provide the architect with information on how mesh can contribute to LEED credits for optimized energy performance, recycled content, and glare reduction. Metal mesh is 100% recyclable and easy to maintain – power washing or rinsing with a mild detergent being the recommended cleaning method.
Custom Mesh Budget & Contract
With the bulk of the work completed between manufacturer and architect, the general contractor will solicit bids from local installers who will consult with the manufacturer to prepare a budget and obtain a final proposal. The mesh scope of work may also include attachments, engineering, mock-up, additional structural elements, freight and installation.
Upon execution of the contract, the mesh manufacturer will produce shop drawings if required and fabricate the desired mesh and attachment systems.
Custom Mesh Engineering
Simultaneous with the budget and contractual process, the manufacturer will consult with the project’s structural engineer to provide preliminary load assessments, attachment system details and assist with connections. This will allow the firm to design their portion of the project. Stamped engineering drawings and final loading information are also provided once the manufacturer is under contract.
Custom Mesh Installation
When it’s time for installation, manufacturers ship the mesh and attachment hardware to the construction site. A full-service company should provide technical assistance and training to help the subcontractor properly install the mesh. On some occasions, the manufacturer may even send a representative to assist with the installation.
Because most mesh is made from 100 percent marine grade stainless steel, the metal is extremely durable and will not harden or become brittle. Warranties are provided to ensure the proper metal composition and guarantee that a passivation process was applied to prevent rust.