You don’t remember back this far, but business awnings have been around since the heyday of Egyptian culture, when woven reeds were used to shade both living areas and marketplace stalls. My, how things have changed.
Business awnings have evolved dramatically over the centuries, always reflecting the emerging technologies of their times. The ancient Romans used retractable linen fabric awnings to cover seating in the Coliseum and other outdoor areas.
Mostly, though, business awnings were strictly utilitarian, constructed with a wooden frame that had cotton duck (heavy canvas also called sailcloth) stretched across the top and nailed down. And for a long time things didn’t change much. Then the Industrial Revolution got underway, and business awnings were swept along with the tide of change.
As the 1800s progressed, choices began to emerge.
Iron pipe took over as a replacement for wooden framing. It was inexpensive, and it could be bent into shapes. Now you could have an awning that was different, not exactly like your business neighbor’s.
By mid-1800, specialized awning hardware was appearing, too. Instead of nailing canvas to the frame, it could be laced into place. It fit better and looked better, and it could be easily removed for winter storage. Painting canvas for business awnings also came into vogue, allowing broader differences in appearance and launching the “fashion revolution” for business awnings.
Now awnings had two purposes — function and aesthetics. They were doubly valuable, becoming more and more prevalent throughout business districts.
Retractable awnings created the next stir for store-fronts.
At first, they were raised and lowered by means of a rope and pulley, which made it easy to retract them during periods of rain or strong wind, although they bunched-up rather unattractively. Later, spring-loaded iron arms were invented, allowing the canvas to wind around a roller tube, like an outdoor window shade extended outward.
During the post-World War II years, aluminum was all the rage for business awnings. It was affordable and more durable than canvas, and it fit in with the streamlined, “serviceable” architecture of the times. But awnings began to fade out of fashion, spurned in favor of a newer technology — air conditioning. No one worried about electricity costs back then.
But versatility and nostalgia win the day.
Fabric business awnings, both fixed and retractable, have seen a tremendous resurgence since the 1970s. Business awnings started making a comeback, gaining popularity as a fashion statement, not just a shade structure. With performance features improving, too, business awnings caught the undivided attention of architects and designers.
Recent decades have brought more advanced synthetic fabrics that offer far more colors, greater functionality and durability and sturdier, more attractive fastening options such as screws, rivets and even stapling. People remain nostalgic for old-fashioned styling, even as they look for new ways to give shape to their awnings.
Now, business awnings offer more variety and flexibility than ever. While old-fashioned styles remain popular, free-standing structures such as tension sails, wooden pergolas and canopy tents allow businesses and building owners to create one-of-a-kind looks that incorporate all the functional features they need, for façades and outdoor spaces.
Business awnings are once again transforming entire neighborhoods, as business owners are firmly convinced of their awning’s value for enhancing appearance, cutting energy costs, providing protection from the sun and enlarging sales area. Shopping centers and national chain stores have captured the spirit, too, specifying business awnings as part of their visual “persona.”
It’s a whole new world for those who make business awnings.
Creating awnings used to be a trade craft. Now it’s still a specialty craft, but it requires professional training and skill working with architects, building and electrical contractors, corporate planners, graphic designers and welders – an understanding of structural engineering as well as the elements of color and design.
Where will business awnings go from here?
Photo Credit: robstephaustralia via Flcikr