Architectural wire mesh

By Robin Fisher, Architectural Critic

We look at the development of mesh into a material for indoors and out.

Architectural wire mesh

Wire meshes are being increasingly used by architects and designers the world over both for external and internal applications. Wire mesh is a very versatile material that exists in a range of different metals and manufacturing techniques. For instance stainless steel mesh or galvanized steel mesh are often specified for external applications whilst finely woven wire mesh or brass wire mesh are often used in interior design. Welded wire mesh is produced through the electronic fusion of two wires together to create a grid and acts as an alternative to its woven wire cousin when mechanical strength is paramount. PVD coated coloured stainless steel wire mesh opens up further design possibilities whilst making the surface ten times harder and more scratch resistant.

Overhead canopy roof of the DLR Stratford DLR rail station, London

Overhead canopy roof of the DLR Stratford DLR rail station, London

Mesh as a cladding, screen and thermal shield

As an external cladding solution architectural mesh forms a semi-transparent outer skin that acts both as a sun shield but also reduces heat losses. Its aesthetic appeal comes from the reflective nature of stainless steel mesh which can alter its appearance during the daytime according to the weather conditions creating a shimmering metallic effect at certain hours of the day. At night time lighting effects on wire mesh combined with colour can create really spectacular optical effects. Today wire mesh with integrated LED lighting opens up new possibilities to highlight façades and create spectacular displays at night.

The wire mesh can be weaved into a variety of intricate patterns to obtain different types of texture and levels of transparency. This gives the architect a wide range of possibilities to customize the cladding design to each specific building project. Furthermore the meshes can be assembled on self-supporting panels that can that can be curved into different shapes to fit in the overall design of the building.

Sometimes architects and designers use wire mesh to screen off certain less attractive parts of the building. For instance Thomas Heatherwick’s undulating woven mesh design to screen off the boiler house at Guy’s Hospital is a brilliant example of how to transform an eye -sore into an architectural feature . In sunny climates wire mesh outer skins can also act as sun blinds: as the sun rises in the sky direct sunlight penetration is reduced progressively reaching maximum effectiveness when the sun is at its highest point. Additionally most patterns offer excellent transparency from inside the buildings looking directly through the mesh.

Boiler suit, the mesh cladding to Guy’s Hospital boiler house by Heatherwick Studio

Boiler suit, the mesh cladding to Guy’s Hospital boiler house by Heatherwick Studio

Produced from fire resistant stainless steel these mesh panels are virtually maintenance-free. They are also self-supporting and therefore much easier to install compared to similar meshes made with flexible cables that require tensioning on site. Despite being manufactured from rigid wires the majority of these meshes can however be applied to curved surfaces and frames on site without preforming. Whilst presenting a high quality of appearance these meshes are very cost effective.

Wire mesh is also widely used for external applications such as balustrades or guard rails for outdoor staircases, pedestrian footbridges and landscape furniture such as light masts. The wire diameters and mesh apertures can be individually designed to the required specifications.

Mesh for interiors

Metal mesh’s rise in popularity for interior design may be due to the increased desire for flexible, modular walls without drywall, paint or wallpaper. It is an amazingly versatile material which lends itself to a whole range of applications for room or area separation, decorative columns, walls allowing HVAC flow, staircase enclosures of lift shafts or simply as an accent. Different types of mesh, surface textures and lighting make it possible to alter the aspect of the material so that depending on the angle of viewing the selected meshes can alter from translucent to opaque in an instant.

Rolling or curving the mesh in a ceiling or wall application, and then adding a few lighting points will create movement and fluidity. Because the mesh is woven, there are crimps where the wires cross each other. At those crossing points, there will be a light reflection point. The reflective properties of the mesh depend on how tightly woven it is or how many crimps there are. In addition mesh ceilings are regularly used to hide sprinkler systems, pipes, cable trunking or HVAC units. By adding a lighting element the mesh will become completely opaque while still allowing air flow.

Most interior metal applications are surprisingly easy to install. Mounting hardware, such as c-hooks, mocket-branded fasteners, channel systems, are the most common installations. However because of the variety of interior metal applications, there are always special considerations for installation. As a result most new interior metal applications are custom designed, requiring the entire project team to work in close relation with the manufacturers so that they are consulted at early stages of the design process.

Mesh drapes designed by Yabu Pushelberg at the Smyth Hotel, New York

Mesh drapes designed by Yabu Pushelberg at the Smyth Hotel, New York