Lighting Effects with Coiled Wire Fabric

Stunning results can be achieved by combining natural or electric lighting with coiled wire fabric
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Sponsored by Cascade Architectural
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Once installed, energy performance of buildings has been documented through independent testing. Results show energy consumption savings of up to 3.3 percent for interior applications over glazing and 12.3 percent for exterior applications. This means that it is effective not only for new buildings but also for retrofitting buildings that lack high-performance glazing. Both internal and external applications significantly increase occupant comfort by mitigating sunlight, reducing glare, and controlling interior temperatures. The lightweight, durable nature of the fabric means that it will neither impact the building structure adversely nor require much in the way of maintenance or replacement over the life of the building.

When selecting a coiled wire fabric system for a project, it is important to recognize that there are a lot of different choices in the details of how it can be specified. Manufacturers will readily work with architects and designers to review the specific project requirements and suggest standard options or even engineer a custom solution. Some even offer specific services to support the use of their products, including structural engineering, mechanical engineering, extrusion design, modeling, drafting, shop drawings, schedules, specifications, fabrication, and on-site installation consultation.

Natural Daylight Control

Providing natural daylight in buildings has always been an architectural design consideration. Problems can arise if that light is uncontrolled, however, since undesirable characteristics such as glare or overheating can occur. Therefore, there is a need to provide a means to control the daylight and solar gains so that the heat and light provided by sunshine remain desirable aspects of a building design.

Coiled wire fabric is an ideal choice for solar and daylight control since it can be selected and specified to provide a wide range of differing levels of light penetration or reflectance. As noted earlier, the makeup of the fabric can be adjusted as needed based on the wire gauge, weave, fullness, and color to produce different effects. A light-colored, densely woven fabric with thicker gauge coiled wire can be expected to reflect direct sunlight back away from the building and keep it cooler. A dark-colored fabric will absorb sunlight and radiate back some heat, while a more open weave will allow more light penetration through it. By selecting the appropriate characteristics, the desired traits can be achieved. More significantly, different characteristics can be selected to suit different conditions on the north, south, east, and west sides of a building related to sunlight exposure and concerns. In so doing, the appearance of the fabric can look similar or different as desired.

There are several common ways that coiled wire fabric is used to control daylight and solar gains.

Exterior Design

It is generally understood that the most effective means of shading windows and other fenestration is to stop or reflect the sunlight on the outside of the building. Therefore, coiled wire fabric has been used in several ways on building exteriors to limit solar gains, reflect light deeper into interior spaces, or shade the surface of glazing.

  • Scrim panels: The wire fabric can be installed in metal frames that are mounted directly to the building facade. The resulting panels then cover over the glazing or openings and provide shading or penetration as desired. From the inside of the building, the view can be maintained much the same way ceramic frit on glass is used to allow a view but reflect sunlight.

Photo: © CCD, Inc. Architect: Collaborative Studio LLC

Scrim panels placed over a facade help to reduce excess solar gains and glare while adding a ventilated, custom visual design aspect to a building.

  • Horizontal panels: Instead of covering the windows or openings, panels can be installed so they extend out horizontally above the fenestration. This can create shading such that ambient light enters below the horizontal projection but direct light is prevented. Energy codes recognize this approach as a projection factor (PF) that can be used to demonstrate code compliance for fenestration and daylighting. The top of the horizontal panel could also be placed below the top of the glazing with a reflective surface that allows daylight to be reflected up to the ceiling of the interior space and thus penetrate deeper into the building.
  • Vertical panels: Sometimes there is a preference for panels that stand up vertically in front of a building facade, either to create a variation on the brise soleil effect, provide solar shading particularly for east/west orientations, or add another design element to a building. Coiled wire fabric can be used in panels to achieve any or all of these approaches. When the panels are attached to the building, they can appear as vertical louvers or accents. When a separate frame is used, it can help enclose an outdoor space or otherwise add to the three dimensionality of the building.

Photos: © CCD, Inc. Architect: LMN Architects

Panels that are fabricated to be installed separate from a facade in a vertical manner provide an opportunity for solar screening during the day and special lighting effects at night.

  • Exterior protection: In addition to sunlight, building components like glass, glazing, and even opaque assemblies can be subjected to other forces from nature or man-made events that require some form of protection. Of course, architects and designers do not typically want a purely industrial or harsh appearance to be the dominant feature of that protection. Rather, the goal is to find a solution that respects the overall design of a building while still providing the ability to be protected and resilient. This is true if severe weather is the concern, such as hurricanes, tornados, or flooding. It can also be required where blast protection is part of the building design criteria, as is the case in many government buildings and other public facilities. Recognizing these concerns as a design issue is the first step in determining an appropriate response.

Protective, coiled wire fabric has been used as an appropriate design solution to create building facades that are appealing and consistent with an overall intent. When that fabric is selected, engineered, and installed to serve as a protective barrier, then it becomes a first line of defense against natural disasters or man-made hazards. Hence, coiled wire fabric can help buildings remain resilient in the face of increasing changes and challenges.

With an understanding of how coiled wire fabric can be used effectively on building exteriors, let’s next turn our attention to interiors.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in October 2020