Fenestration: Mid-Door Spaces

Expanding the Exterior Footprint & Beyond

by Josh Bradley, director of marketing, GKD Metal Fabrics

(Editor’s Note: GKD offers architects the ability to create dynamic, modern environments that address numerous building challenges.  Drawing on more than 95 years of German engineering excellence and precise American manufacturing, GKD revolutionized the category of metal fabric applications.  With thousands of interior and exterior installations constructed worldwide, architects and specifiers recognize GKD as the metal fabric authority.  For more information on architectural exteriors, visit www.gkdmetalfabrics.com or call (800) 453-8616.)

We want protection from buildings, but in the age of COVID-19, the outdoors has become society’s new sanctuary.  The upside is that nature makes us our best versions of ourselves.  The American Society of Landscape Architects lists more than 22 health benefits of nature for children and adults, referencing medical studies that have found that direct exposure to nature have measured short-term and long-term benefits to mental and physical health and improve cognitive function, making immersion in the outdoors essential in healthcare, workplace, and educational settings.

         For this reason, architects are seeking new ways to create or enhance outdoor spaces in commercial buildings.  Especially in this unprecedented pandemic year, when interior renovations have turned to exteriors and an examination of whether a business has the physical space to make improvements outside.  And, if not, how can adjacent exterior spaces be adapted for this new design objective?  A new charge for architects now and in the coming years will be expanding the footprint of usable space to the outdoors, a trend with potential to impact all building types and markets.

         “Now more than ever, public spaces are poised to become the grand lobbies and public waiting rooms of our neighborhoods and cities,” said Michael Wagner, Gensler.  “At a time when crowds will be metered and access controlled like never before, public space is where people will spend a lot of time, waiting and doing all the things people do when they’re idle.”

         Buildings with atriums, overhangs, and semi-enclosed spaces provide enhanced access to these extended outdoor spaces.  These mid-door spaces, a term coined by Transsolar’s Erik Olsen in his series What is Indoors? for Fast Company, also provide biophilic benefits fundamental to human performance while delivering a flexible program rife with daylight, ventilation, and naturally filtered and humidified air. 

         On the coattails of companies like Amazon, many workplaces are adopting this approach to their facilities.  For example, C3, a Gensler spec project in Los Angeles, California, transforms the border between an office building and a parking structure into a curated series of outdoor spaces.  In environments like this, where building materials must maintain a high level of both performance and aesthetic, metal fabric is an ideal material for expanding the exterior footprint of existing buildings.  In addition to its modern look and customization options, metal fabric brings performance characteristics such daylighting ability and providing natural ventilation, safety, and security.  

         Airport design is also evolving to make the passenger journey more of a semi-permeable experience, said Wagner, pointing to JFK’s JetBlue® Terminal Five, which weaves a new outdoor dining roof terrace into the design.  Outfitting rooftops as double duty assets means that organizations don’t necessarily need to have acres and acres of green space in order to realize the benefit of providing outdoor amenity spaces.  In this case, metal mesh may be designed to include railings, balustrades, and gabions for rooftop lounges or restaurant terrace spaces without obstructing views. 

         In addition to fall protection, metal mesh can secure a semi-permanent perimeter for after hours.  GKD Metal Fabric’s collaboration with CornellCookson resulted in a sleek security product called SteelWeave.  This metal mesh grill combines GKD fabric with CornellCookson roller shutter technology for elegant theft protection in retail, restaurant, and hospitality settings.

         With current health and safety precautions encouraging socially distanced, outdoor activities, architects are exploring sunshades, overhangs, and other ceiling structures to hover above and define an exterior space.  Metal mesh provides a flexible design solution that can adapt to the design of outdoor spaces depending on factors such as location, exposure to sun, moisture, and other elements.  However, architects do not have to compromise on aesthetics, as there are multiple customization options using a wide variety of finishes, weaves, and metal alloys.

         Lastly, and perhaps most convincingly for developers and urban planners, there is a sound business case for developing and providing outdoor amenities, at least in a corporate setting.  “Research has shown that in the corporate setting, being outdoors is the least expensive place to invest in per square foot, and it doesn’t cost a lot compared to the building,” said Kirt Martin, vice president of marketing and design for Landscape Forms®, the authority on creating outdoor spaces.  “Those spaces tend to be overlooked but are really critical to the human experience and to people.”  

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