Building Shade: Time to Flex Your Creative Muscles With Performance Fabrics

Architizer Editors Architizer Editors

Architizer is excited to partner with Sunbrella® for the fourth annual FUTURE OF SHADE COMPETITION, which is dedicated to exploring space-building potentials of fabric. Over the years, the competition has generated interest from architects and designers all over the world, attracting innovative solutions that advance the technological and aesthetic potential of Sunbrella products. This year, the organizers are upping the ante by offering both a $10,000 grand prize per category and a chance to build out the design in the Miami Design District.

Designing with fabric takes us back to the very fundamentals of architecture. It merges technical knowhow and aesthetics through the simple yet powerful principles of tensegrity. Forces like pressure, tension, member interaction and load-bearing hierarchy, coupled with responsiveness to weather conditions such as wind, rain and sun present an entire array of challenges for architects to explore: What is a wall? At which point does a surface begin to define a volume? What are the new ways of breaking down the dichotomy between interior and exterior? Can shade appropriate sustainable qualities and become transformable and easily transported?


Grand Prize Winner, Building Shade: “Helicon” by Doel Fresse

In short, to master the tensile structure, one must delicately balance the tension, pressure and torsion factors to create something stable. On the flip side, many of the constraints that apply to hard materials are minimized with fabric, which lends itself to a wider array of building techniques and forms. It can be folded, stretched, crinkled, used to create intricate patterns and gestures and coupled with creative lighting to produce stunning effects.

Consider the fabric used for the Water Cathedral installation in Chile, which recalls formations found on the ceilings of caves. GUN Architects designed the structure to provide shade as a whole, with individual elements representing stalactites and stalagmites of varying densities and lengths and funneling rainwater into a hydraulic irrigation network below. The dripping of the water creates fantastic auditory and visual effects that change throughout the day.


Water Cathedral by GUN Architects

The true origin of architecture lies in textiles, weaving, braiding and the often richly decorated nomadic tents. German architect and critic Gottfried Semper stated that, while the primitive hut can be interpreted as a strictly utilitarian building type, textile structures were the first evidence of the attempt at playfulness and aesthetic pursuit in architecture. It was the first time the sheer beauty of form was contemplated. “The beginnings of building coincide with those of weaving,” Semper claimed. Flexibility, pliability and robustness make textiles the archetypal architectural material that defined the principle of spatial enclosure as early as that of clothing the human body. Even the simple techniques of the weave and the knot used by nomadic tribes constitute the basis of many contemporary joining structures.


King Fahad National Library Riyadh by Gerben Architekten

Architects continue to reference these historic roots to this day. Stripped-down functionality and beauty of form complement each other best in shading structures. The immediacy with which this marriage is perceived characterizes the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh. Gerber Architekten used rhomboid textile awnings supported by a three-dimensional, tensile-stressed steel cable structure as a shading system for the library, which was located in an area where daytime temperatures often reach 50 degrees Celsius (or 122 Fahrenheit). The filigree cable structure and the textile sunshades reference traditional Arabian tent structures and combine the required protection from the sun with maximum light penetration and transparency. What’s exceptional about projects like this is the fact that the methods and technologies not only can be traced back to the early history of the Arab world, but are also used to curb the energy consumption and increase the thermal comfort of structures built centuries afterward.

The winner of last year’s Future of Shade competition also used traditional architecture — textile coverings in Dubai’s souk market — as inspiration. The “Mosque of Light” addresses the experiential aspect of hanging fabric. Here, Sunbrella fabric acts as a canvas for the interplay of light and shadow within the prayer space illuminated by delicate light cuts. “The Mosque of Light is innovative in the fact that it’s a re-rendering of a typological ideal,” said David Rubin of Land Collective, who served on the competition jury. “It doesn’t need to be a mosque; it could be any type of structure that offers enlightenment. There are fundamental ideas about passing through thresholds, changing the human condition that can be understood across cultures and across religions.”

Now, it’s time for you to flex your creative muscle. While the Building Shade category previously invited architects and designers to conceptualize shading in a variety of contexts, this year it challenges participants to envision shading for a specific site using some of the hundreds of products in the extensive Sunbrella catalog in a novel way. The chosen location, Paseo Ponti, is a midblock pedestrian zone that links the two main plazas of the Miami Design District (Paradise Plaza to the north and Palm Court to the south) and is bound by the NE 40th and NE 41st streets. Members of the Miami design community — including award-winning architect Chad Oppenheim — will review all entrants in the Building Shade category and may select one to be built as part of the redevelopment that the district is currently undergoing. (If the category winner is also selected for the Miami Design District development, that team will receive both the $10,000 prize and a commission fee of $25,000 to realize the design.)

The deadline to submit to any of the Sunbrella Future of Shade categories is March 20th. More information can be found on the contest’s competition page here on Architizer.

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