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Protect the poutine!

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Cantine Chez Ben, a legendary café in Granby, Quebec, Canada, has been satisfying Canadians’ love of poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese) for more than 60 years. With an eye on expanding business, its third generation owners decided to provide a cover for its outdoor terrace. But not just any canopy would do; it had to be as attention-grabbing as its iconic red-and-white neon sign depicting a giant.

Sollertia Inc., Montreal, Quebec, was given the task. When the owners came upon other projects by Sollertia, they were impressed with the company’s creativity. Claude Le Bel, Sollertia’s founder and president, designed a one-of-a-kind canopy—contemporary yet true to the kitsch appeal of the cantine, and utilizing the flamboyant red and white of the trademark neon. “The fabric we use most often is PVC (Ferrari Precontraint) known for quality, stability and durability,” he says, praising how its range of translucency and opacity can be used to shape and define a space.

As Sollertia’s junior engineer Jerome Noel explains, “One of the reasons I like working with PVC membranes is that there is little stretch to them, and this diminished the uncertainties with respect to the movement of the hinged masts when there are two or three anchor points on a single mast.”

To counter the design challenges that even such a relatively small—170 square meter—project can create, Le Bel used four separate different-sized membranes that overlap with multiple anchor points—several of which are on a single mast. (The structure could not be anchored to the existing building.) “So with 47 different anchor points, calculating the load distribution and wind effect was quite a challenge.” Another conundrum: The structure needed to be installed and dismantled each season.

To the owners’ credit, several of Sollertia’s less complex—and less costly—ideas were rejected. The family wanted the best, “and fabric appealed to them because it was ‘different.’ They wanted a ‘wow factor,’ and we were keen on working on the inverted conical structure so we were able to give them that with our design,” Noel says.

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