The Best of Both Worlds


OpenAire is letting us have our cake and eat it too. The Ontario based business specializes in retractable roofs, which allow us to enjoy the advantages of being indoors and outdoors – from the same space. “A retractable roof gives the best of both worlds,” says VP Sales and Marketing Dave Bolwerk.

OpenAire creates rooms – and even entire buildings – that open on command to bring the outdoors in. “When it is nice out, people don’t want to go inside a building,” Mr. Bolwerk points out. “People want to be outside.” And, when the weather turns sour, a push of a button (or automatic sensors) enclose the space again. The company’s glass and polycarbonate structures also let sunlight pour in even when the roof is closed, “so you still get that outdoor effect. It is still bright and airy in there.”

The company’s structures are popular all over the world, in private homes as well as an assortment of commercial enterprises. Projects range from remarkably large to relatively small. “We will build an entire building over a water park, or just a skylight.” For example, restaurants hire OpenAire to enclose outdoor dining areas so that diners can use the space regardless of the weather. “When it is nice out obviously the roof and the sides will be open,” Mr. Bolwerk explains. “When it is not so nice out, you just close the roof. The restaurant will get revenue from that space regardless of the weather.”

Shopping centres and malls are also ideal venues for OpenAire’s technology, including out of the box projects like Guelph, Ontario’s Old Quebec Street. For this revitalization project, the team had to create a retractable roof for a refurbished shopping centre designed to look like a historical European street. The finished product blended into the historical context and, when opened, enhances the outdoor feel of the interior streetscape.

The company’s retractable roofs have also become popular with aquatic facilities. Enclosed water parks are increasing in popularity, and size – OpenAire’s tallest enclosure in North America is for a water park at Jay Peak Resort in Vermont. The 40,000 square foot structure measures 140 feet wide, 280 feet long, and 43 feet high at the sidewalls. There is also a curved cupola at the apex to make room for a 55 foot high slide tower. In addition, the structure can handle 80 lbs. per square foot of snow load, a crucial design feature for Vermont’s snowy climate. Traditionally a ski resort, Jay Peak built the new facility as a key part of its plan to become a four seasons’ attraction. And, Mr. Bolwerk reports, the plan is working. “They were surprised that first summer they were open that they were way ahead of revenue projections,” he remembers. “The water park opened in December of 2012 which was the odd winter when there was very little natural snow to cover the slopes, but the hotel was packed because people were there for the water park.”

Entertainment spaces also benefit from OpenAire’s retractable roofs. In fact, one of the company’s most memorable recent projects was for St. Louis’ Ballpark Village. Located across the street from Busch Stadium, the village is a 20,000 square foot entertainment marketplace featuring a sports bar, Cardinals Nation, Budweiser Brew House and a 40-foot diagonal LED screen. OpenAire designed, manufactured and installed a double-sloped retractable roof constructed of polycarbonate in the roof section and glass panels in the gable ends. The structure measures 96 feet by 96 feet, and rises 50 feet above the ground. Twelve sliding panels open at the touch of a button, allowing patrons below to enjoy the outdoors without leaving the building.

Regardless of the project, OpenAire provides a complete solution. “We design it, we fabricate it, and we go out there and install it,” Mr. Bolwerk reports. “We will take it from the very beginning to the very end and then we warranty it after that. It is one stop shopping.” The team carefully walks the client through each step of the process to ensure satisfaction.

Working closely with clients begins on day one, since many of them show up without a clear understanding of what they actually want. “People call and say, ‘I’d really like a retractable roof but quite frankly I don’t know how to do it. I have no clue.’” Fortunately, the team knows how to work from scratch to create a design that will fit the space – and the client’s budget. It isn’t always easy, of course, and the process requires both innovative thinking and a willingness to listen to the client’s needs.

In fact, listening to the client’s needs has been key to OpenAire’s quarter century of success. “We are where we are because we’ve always addressed the client’s needs and desires. It is a matter of listening to what the customer wants and what they are trying to achieve, and then designing accordingly. That is what brought us to this point. We never said no; we never said, ‘that one’s too big for us.’ We just made it.” Mr. Bolwerk continues, “With an in-house architectural team we are now able take our work a step further and be involved in the complete design of the space be it a hotel, restaurant, water park or other entertainment space. As a result, we’re not only able to offer blue sky concept through opening day architectural and interior design services for our clients, our work is growing more complex and – truthfully – more beautiful than it ever was before.”

This commitment to customer satisfaction and unique design has often meant attempting to do what’s never been done before. “We did a building in Ukraine that is a 278 foot diameter dome that opens like a pinwheel,” Mr. Bolwerk recalls. “We had never done one like that before they came to us. But they said that was what they wanted, so we built it. Our team created a spectacular design; we did the engineering, and we made it work.”

Of course, the company has had to evolve along with a changing market in order to continuously meet client needs. When the company was founded 25 years ago, smaller, residential projects were in demand as well as some modest commercial projects. “Water parks weren’t really in the mix,” Mr. Bolwerk recalls. “But then the buildings started getting bigger, so our design and engineering followed that.” When indoor water parks hit the scene, the team had to really re-evaluate what was possible. “Suddenly they wanted a 130 foot wide building,” Mr. Bolwerk remembers. It was a unique challenge for a company that does not rely on interior support columns and uses aluminum rather than steel. The team made it work, however. “We totally redesigned the entire structure. Since then [our buildings] just keep getting bigger and bigger.”

OpenAire enclosures are not only big, they are also energy efficient. “Anytime that you can open your roof you can turn off all your mechanicals,” Mr. Bolwerk points out. “Your temperature inside is going to be roughly what it is outside When you have a conventional building, you are probably going to turn lights on, and probably the air conditioning too. If you have an OpenAire building, you just open the roof.”

There are also energy advantages in the wintertime, when the roof is closed. “Because it is all glazed, you still aren’t turning on any lights during daylight hours,” Mr. Bolwerk points out. “And you are also getting some solar gain. That offsets some of the heating requirements.”

Energy savings are even greater for aquatic facilities. “When you have a swimming venue, you have a body of water that is constantly evaporating,” Mr. Bolwerk explains. “The chlorine coming out of that pool mixes with oxygen and creates chloramines. For a healthy environment you have to get that out of the air, so that means a dehumidification system has to be constantly running.” In fact, health codes require that the air be exchanged up to five times and hour, Mr. Bolwerk reports.

Aquatic facilities don’t need to run an energy-sucking dehumidification system while a retractable roof is open. “All that moisture that is evaporating from the pool is just going up through the roof,” Mr. Bolwerk explains. “When you open the roof you are getting a chimney effect.” (This chimney effect also prevents pollution from entering the building). The open roof, in combination with open sliding glass doors, “takes care of all your dehumidification.”

With no need for air conditioning, lighting, or dehumidification, energy costs are minimal. “Basically, you have no energy cost for the building when the roof is open. It is being used as an outdoor venue.” OpenAire’s energy-efficient, LEED-certified retractable roof enclosures and skylights have actually been tested by third party engineers, and were found to generate savings of up to 27 percent over traditional construction.

With so much to offer, it is not surprising that OpenAire is in demand around the world. The company started in Canada but has become increasingly active in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. “We have really gone global. There is not a place where we won’t go.” The secret to this international success is due to both the company’s skill and the sheer popularity of the product. “People really want natural light,” Mr. Bolwerk points out. “They want [buildings] to open. And we have been around long enough that we have proven that we can make it work.”

For more information about OpenAire, please visit

June 19, 2018, 8:05 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.