Designing with Chain Link

Dan Knapmiller-Week 6


I have a nasty chain-link fence surrounding my South Minneapolis home.  For years I have considered how to enhance the fence’s general aesthetic and increase its opacity for privacy.  I have considered everything but decorating it with cups and string.  At one point I thought about fastening irregular pieces of charred cedar (like a sort of shou sugi ban) to the fence at various locations.  I have considered bending and shaping more chain link fencing into sinuous forms and fastening that to the top of the fence.  However, the more I consider these solutions the more I feel that they are all simply ‘adding-on’ to the existing fence.  Their aim is to either mask the existing material or disrupt it in a way that is curious but not necessarily an economical or appropriate use of chain-link fencing.

The material itself is not inherently bad, possibly utilitarian- but not bad.  It’s a pretty useful prefabricated system that can be transported in rolls and hung like a curtain before being stretched out and fastened to a frame.  Near Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu, New Mexico home – an anthropologist and a concert pianist have built a home that integrates the use of chain link fencing into their overall design.  Unlike my own fence, their’s is not a retrofitted enclosure for their pets.  The design of their home was not compromised by using chain-link.  They have a number of pets, including the occasional injured stray and they wanted to ensure their protection from desert predators.  Their home was constructed using prefabricated modular systems like chain link and structurally insulated panels clad with steel siding.  At some places the chain link stands alone, away from the house, to enclose outdoor living spaces.  There are other places where the chain link meets the steel siding providing continuity and textural variation.  The material was also employed to protect people (and pets) from falling from the upper terraces of the home.


While their use of chain link does not provide a solution to my opacity problem it has caused me to reconsider the material.  It’s a material that is beautiful for its utility and when preconceived rather than retrofitted it can be integrated with other materials to elevate it’s aesthetic from “construction site” to “Architecture.”  For opacity, I suppose I could always just plant some creeping plants and turn it into a trellis.


Images from the-abiquiu-house


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