Tyvek Innovative Uses Blog, by Material Concepts

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tyvek Shade Canopy - Superscript Installation

Thanks to Kate Moxham and Oliver Hess from Materials & Applications for this guest blog post about Superscript - an experimental shade structure / shade canopy installation made with Tyvek®. It was designed by Moxham and installed at the 826LA literacy center in Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA. Photos courtesy of www.mayoralphoto.com
(Click photos to enlarge.)

Superscript Tyvek notes by Kate Moxham and Oliver Hess

Materials & Applications was approached by 826LA, a literacy center in the Echo Park neighborhood, to design and fabricate a shade canopy. They have a 600-square-foot outdoor space that was virtually unusable because of the intense sun, and were looking to transform it into a comfortable classroom extension with minimal disturbance to the building.

We realized we had an opportunity to create something fun and unusual, and were immediately drawn to Tyvek because it is reminiscent of paper and seemed an appropriate choice for a literacy center. The Tyvek also allowed us to laser cut text from the students’ writing projects into the surfaces, so when the kids are reading outside they are sitting under a canopy of their own words. The fact the cut edges would not fray was an important design consideration, and allowed us to experiment with forms and techniques that would have been impossible with fabric or mesh. Also, we realized that it is very strong and lightweight, which reduced our structural requirements. And since it doesn’t absorb much moisture we knew it would resist dirt and not become too heavy when wet.

Materials & Applications goes about production differently then most design-build firms: we set about to create a series of workshops for the public to participate in the invention of the shade system. Inviting various experts we explored our way around the problem. Kate Moxham was named designer for the project and she immediately began creating lectures for our volunteers on Tyvek, its history, material properties, and various uses, as well as coordinating extensive materials testing and manipulation processes.

After a series of experiments, we chose the Tyvek 1085D for its strength, and because out of all the materials we tested it looked and felt the most like paper. It was important to us that the final design take advantage of the specific and unusual properties of Tyvek -- in other words, that we create something that could not be achieved with any other material.

Besides the material itself it was essential to resolve our fastening strategies as well. We tried a number of glues and tapes, double stick tape and sewing both worked great for subordinate jobs but the majority of connections were accomplished with custom cut Tyvek brand tape reinforcing a punched hole which then had a stainless steel twist ring inserted through it. A number of tests we did with months of outdoor weathering all performed adequately for this low stress design but ultimately we decided using a single piece of specially folded material would give us the most dependable results.

The final design is a field of simple folded surfaces arrayed on parallel cables and nested in a way that filters and reflects the light, while maintaining enough porosity to allow wind and rain to easily pass through. With the light projecting through the text on hundreds of folded “pages”, the effect is like sitting under a fluttering book that has been blown apart in the wind.

Even after executing this project it is clear that Tyvek has many more potential uses for exciting and engaging architectural experiments. Using this project as a test bed, we are looking forward to more interesting investigations in the future. For other architects and designers looking to do similar work we encourage you to think first and foremost about sunlight durability, this is always the most important hurdle with synthetics and from what we have seen so far it appears that 1085D is going to hold up well for our purposes.

Thanks to Kate and Oliver for providing the story on this compelling Tyvek shade canopy installation and to Scott Mayoral for the fantastic photos (used with permission). Check out Materials & Applications on the web.

And if you do want to do your own art or installation piece with Tyvek, consider sourcing the Tyvek from Material Concepts' online catalog. And Material Concepts can provide material selection assistance for your project - just contact us!

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