Metal mesh bridges old and new in Davis Brody Bond renovation.
For their renovation and expansion of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC, Davis Brody Bond faced an unusual aesthetic challenge. Besides updating the two historic buildings housing the embassy’s offices and residence, they were tasked with building a new atrium for public welcoming, public events, and conference rooms—right in between the two older buildings. The architects turned to Cambridge Architectural, a Maryland manufacturer of wire mesh architectural systems. “Davis Brody Bond wanted to have this new building as a very contemporary element between the two limestone buildings,” said Cambridge Architectural’s Ann Smith. A wire mesh facade seemed a perfect solution to the problem of combining old and new, seamlessly bridging the two masonry structures, and providing crucial sun shading for the glass atrium.
The designers selected Cambridge Architectural’s Shade mesh, a stainless steel weave of triangular elements with an open area of 54 percent. “Shade was chosen specifically to reduce the sun coming in, and the glare, because there are conference rooms in that front area,” explained Smith. “But they still wanted to maintain the views.” Shade is also a flexible, almost fabric-like mesh. “The architects really wanted to see it as one continuous piece,” said Smith. “Our flexible materials lend well to that. We’re able to tension them without tying back to the structure as often.”
The mesh facade turns three times as it wraps around the top and front of the atrium, twice around the parapet, and once again above the recessed entry. To modulate the tension on the screen, Cambridge Architectural developed a custom attachment system based on their Cambridge Scroll attachment series. “We changed the original concept a number of times,” said engineering manager Jim Mitchell. “One of the challenges was that when you first walk in, the mesh runs overhead. We had to put more supports in there, more of our tension brackets to keep it looking horizontal, and to keep the tension as it turned.” In this case, that meant locating additional attachment areas on the building and adding steel mounts for the Cambridge Scroll hardware.
Cambridge Architectural also worked with Davis Brody Bond on a custom window-washing apparatus. The mesh team mounted the screen further off the glass than was standard, to allow room for a hook-and-pulley system designed by the architects. Davis Brody Bond also modified the window design to make for easier cleaning. Inside the entry, Cambridge Architectural installed frames of rigid mesh to echo the exterior facade while allowing access to HVAC equipment.
By partnering with Cambridge Architectural on the South African Embassy project, Davis Brody Bond solved two problems at once. They marked their expansion as clearly contemporary without upstaging either the older buildings or the iconic Nelson Mandela statue out front, and they also made building a south-facing glass atrium possible. “It was a perfect combination of a transparent material that could also shade, and a stainless steel material that was very modern,” said brand manager Gary Compton. “When you’re inside that space, it makes for a nice welcoming, open area.”