When Bilal Parlak was commissioned to install two matching “wet wall” features as part of Menlyn Shopping Centre’s revamp, it was clear that the client was looking for a major visual impact. The design called for water to fall down the face of two massive 9m high plates, one next to each elevator shaft.
The scale of the work didn’t concern Parlak, but the specified material did – the architect wanted each piece to be a single 9m high sheet of glass. As visually appealing as the idea clearly was, Parlak saw many difficulties with it.
The mounting was within reach of the upstairs concourse, which meant it wasn’t inconceivable for the glass to get broken, whether by accident or vandalism, which would result in shards falling into the crowd below from a height of 9m. It was, in short, a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Stainless steel, Parlak argued, was a much better choice. It might not be transparent, but would offer just as much visual drama as glass, would resist corrosion and would be impervious to accidental damage. The clients agreed and Parlak worked with Columbus Stainless to source a marinegrade
To maintain visual flow, it would have been ideal to use a single 9m length, but while Columbus Stainless confirmed that they could indeed roll out a 9m plate, it would need to go through a straightening process and at the time, the biggest available machine could do no more than 5m – so they’d have to use two 4.5m sections for each feature.
“We didn’t really want the join,” says Parlak. “It doesn’t affect the visual impact at all, but it creates a technical challenge because you have to get it perfectly straight. The water flowing down the plate means that even the slightest irregularity in the join will show up immediately, because the water will start moving to one side.”
“And because it’s such a big piece, there is no way to pre-test it. The only time we would know for certain if we’d got it right was when it was mounted and turned on for the first time.”
Rather than transport finished pieces from their factory in Middleberg, they elected to build the features on site, in the mall. “It took about 3-4 weeks,” says Parlak. “It was fun, we enjoyed ourselves.
“When those first drops of water came down and we could see that it was working perfectly, we wanted to cheer. It’s a good feeling.”