Being able to create something different is pushing more designers to consider FRP, but the material’s other advantages are sealing the deal. In addition to easy customization, the light weight of composites is increasingly seen as an advantage for architectural applications.
For example, EDON is working with an architect on the early stages of a design for a new parking garage at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The façade will feature approximately 35,000 square feet of GFRP panels with elliptical cutouts. “The idea was to make a panel that you could rotate to get different design patterns with the molded holes, but reduce the tooling required,” says Axel. The panels, which will measure 2 x 2 feet and 4 x 4 feet, will be rotated at regular intervals around the building. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, the molded cutouts will allow air flow through the parking garage, which eliminates the need for a full sprinkler system in the building.
By molding the openings, rather than cutting them out after fabrication, the panels gain strength, says Axel. “With composites like ours, any type of bend or radius increases the strength in the part,” he explains. However, the light weight of the FRP panel – approximately 1½ to 2 pounds per square foot versus traditional materials that might weigh 7 to 8 pounds per square foot – cuts down on the need for extensive framing to support the façade. Using less framing, in turn, can bring down the total project cost.
“Composites actually can help to reduce cost when they are considered holistically from the beginning,” Axel says. This holistic overview also should account for the lifecycle cost of maintenance over time. Taken together, composites’ light weight and durability make a competitive cost argument.
“We have seen that on almost all the landmark projects that we’ve bid,” says Aljishi. “Whenever we’ve gone head-to-head with some of the more traditional materials, like glass-reinforced concrete or high-performance concrete, we’ve been able to compete on price quite well.”
These days, building owners and architects are more readily accounting for total lifecycle information, but for composites fabricators to capitalize on this new mindset, they must get their products on designers’ drawing boards early. That strategy is working well for EDON. “We’re reaching out to architects and saying, ‘Hey, we’re here. We can do this and make it look like this for you at a fraction of the cost or add things that you can’t do with metal,’” Axel says.