By Margaret Jackson | May 15, 2018
Laser-cut architectural metal panels
Employees: about 50
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Laser-cut architectural metal panels
As an artist, Bueller played around with patinas on copper when he was making furniture and sculptures. It was then that he discovered that there were a number of applications for the metals he was using.
Though he'd been working with the materials since 2002, it wasn't until 2006 that he decided he could build a business around creating decorative panels that architects and designers could incorporate into their projects.
"It really became clear how many different applications there are, and that I wasn't qualified to deal with all of this," Bueller says. "It was a matter of hiring engineers and architects and people."
Though Parasoleil uses a variety of materials, most of its laser-cut panels are made from powder-coated aluminum because it's versatile and durable. The panels can be used to create overhead shade, interior or exterior screening, railing, cladding on a building's exterior, shutters, and architectural accents. The panels and hardware are engineered to withstand wind and snow loads.
"People generally think of our panels as decorative, but if our panels are being used 100 feet up in the air, they need to be tested for wind loads," Bueller says. "It's difficult to do, but we built some software to engineer that."
The panels come in a variety of finishes, such as aged bronze, copper foil and antique gold. Clients also have an array of pattern cutouts to choose from. There are leaves, flowers, and branches, as well as abstract designs.
"We focus on creating innovative tools to give architects and designers a better way of using patterns in their built environments," Bueller says. "We're trying to create better spaces in places where people want to gather."
A good example is the Denver Botanic Gardens' Hive Garden Bistro. The design team wanted to create a shelter that would give the people sitting beneath it the feeling of sitting under a shade tree. The solution was to install Parasoleil's winter branches panels on a substantial wooden structure so they cast shadows on the ground, tabletops, and vertical surfaces of the overhead support beams. Patrons sitting beneath the shelter enjoy shadows that change with the passing of the sun.
Parasoleil's panels are "making cities more welcoming by blurring the line between public and private spaces," says Bueller. "Our product tends to work with both the architecture and the natural environment in a way that bridges across the two."
Parasoleil has completed projects for a range of clients, including the Archer Hotel in Napa, California, Phoenix's Arizona Biltmore Hotel, and the Halcyon and Moxy hotels in Denver. It also enclosed an outdoor staircase at the Denver Housing Authority's Mariposa development at the 10th and Osage light-rail station. "It really creates kind of a landmark art piece visible from the train station but with really beautiful shadows inside the building that change throughout the day," Bueller says.
A tool on the Parasoleil web site that allows customers to design their own panels and determine what the price will be. The process creates a manufacturer's shop drawing for Parasoleil to work from. The company provides fastening hardware and brackets but does not perform installation. The general contractor on the project can install the panels or Parasoleil can recommend an installer.
Parasoleil also helps its clients manage their projects. It helps contractors keep track of the schedule, ensuring the panels are delivered on time. It takes Parasoleil seven weeks from the time the shop drawings are approved to deliver the panels to a job site. "If the contractor has lost track of the project schedule, that can scare them," Bueller says.
Challenges: The recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum product imports has created uncertainty in pricing for Parasoleil. While Bueller is concerned about future availability of aluminum, he says he's still able to get volume pricing. "Some people are panicking and raising their pricing," he says. "It's just something to adapt to and plan for."
The other challenge for Parasoleil is that its clients are in a variety of sectors scattered across the country and each has requirements that are different from the others. "A hotel owner is different from a building developer or a city planner that's designing a park," Bueller says. "Some need engineering, some don't need engineering. It's challenging but walking through those needs with each of our clients helps us end up with projects we're proud of."
Opportunities: With more cities getting rid of big, enclosed malls in favor of new town centers, the demand for decorative panels that provide shade is increasing. "You can go to a public park and go to a shelter and have a picnic there," Bueller says. "Really all you need is shade. The panels lower the ambient temperature and still allow for air flow."
Needs: Parasoleil needs marketing help. Despite the accolades it receives in the industry -- it was recognized as the Innovative Manufacturer of the Year by the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association -- the company does not do a good job of promoting itself, Bueller says.