The When, Where and Why of Choosing The Correct Type of Metal Fabric

July 14, 2015

Stainless steel metal fabrics have been successfully utilized in architecture for more than four decades, and while these materials have proven to be an attractive and sustainable go-to for architects and designers, there still remains some confusion regarding which type of fabric construction is best suited to the particular application. In this article I will attempt to simplify the “When, Where and Why” of choosing the correct metal fabric type based on a few simple foundations.

In the simplest of divisions metal fabrics can be allocated into two main mesh types: flexible and rigid. Now, while of course within each of these two categories we can further subdivide based on parameters such as material thickness, open area, weight (physical and visual), type of alloy, etc., it is mesh type (rigid or flexible) that first needs to be defined.

Originally, metal fabrics utilized in architecture were limited to relatively small rigid panels used for applications such as elevator wall cladding. These patterns were woven from solid rod in both the “Warp” (length) and “Weft” (width) dimensions and hence the “rigid” classification. Since these early days, the use of rigid metal fabrics has expanded to include railing infill panels, ceilings, wall cladding, millwork and others. Being rigid in nature, this type of fabric offers several advantages for applications including: minimal tensioning to install without wrinkling, simpler to frame, and self-supporting to some extent over small distances.

While rigid metal fabrics are ideal for applications where relatively small panels are desired, for several reasons they are less than ideal for applications that require large vertical expanses, such as exterior facades. Rigid metal fabrics in general must ship flat or at least ship in very large diameter rolls. Because of this the cost to ship large rigid metal fabric panels can be prohibitive, not to mention an unnecessary waste of natural resources, i.e. more fuel for less freight. Also, the installation of large rigid metal fabric panels typically requires much more sub-structure, which increases overall project cost. Lastly, working with large rigid metal fabric panels increases the likelihood of damage such as creasing and/or panel deformation due to the difficulty of handling large panels in the field. For these reasons it is best to specify rigid metal fabrics for small-scale applications such as those listed above.

Rigid metal fabrics are ideal for small-scale applications, but they were not intended for applications where large vertical expanses are desired, such as exterior facades, and this is where the flexible metal fabrics shine. Flexible metal fabrics are typically woven with multifilament cables in the Warp and solid rods in the Weft. The use of multifilament cables in the Warp results in a metal fabric that is highly flexible in the Warp dimension, and it is this property that provides numerous advantages where large-scale panels are desired.

The advantages of flexible fabrics for large scale applications are numerous and include, just to name a few: the ability to be rolled for easy and efficient transport; ability to span multiple stories while requiring a minimum of sub-structure for attachment (flexible metal fabrics generally require top and bottom structural attachments and minimal intermediate attachments spaced as required per static calculation); simpler and much less labor intensive to work with in the field with less risk of damage and/or deformation; overall lower project cost.

Stainless steel metal fabrics are an attractive and sustainable choice in today’s disposable world. With applications ranging from as simple as an infill panel in a cabinet door, all the way up to cladding an entire exterior façade for reduction of solar heat gain. Metal fabrics offer a wide range of characteristics to meet the aesthetic and design needs of just about any conceivable application. Choosing the right type of metal fabric is the first step and is key to providing efficient and cost effective solutions for your projects.

Shawn Crismond A degree in visual and performing arts as well as a background in mechanics and construction has been just the blend of skills needed for my role in GKD sales and tech service. This allows me to appreciate the architect’s vision while understanding the “nuts and bolts” of how a project can be executed to help preserve and protect that vision. During my six years at GKD, I have worked on a range of projects including the Chicago Art Institute, Eastern Michigan University, the University of California Davis Medical Center and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City.

Contact Email: