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Fabric and Architecture - Unique Partners


Archeological findings and recorded history provide us ample evidence that women and men from times forgotten had to fashion basic body coverings, containers, carryalls, rope and webbing, items to barter and trade, even living quarters from their surrounding environments. The time-sapping and physical struggle our ancestral humans must have endured in piecing together often dire necessities from animal skins or plant fibers boggles the mind.

Fabrics are made from a variety of fibers from which a yarn can be made, primarily by spinning. The process of knitting (twisted loops of yarn) or weaving (parallel and horizontal runs of yarn) turns yarn into fabric. The terms fabric, cloth and textile are synonymous for any material made of interlacing fibers. We know fabric, cloth or textiles by many names usually based on their main fiber content, either animal (silk/wool/hair), plant (cotton/flax), mineral (carbon/graphite), metal (spun gold/silver), synthetic (petroleum), or a blend of any of these materials.

Some of the most amazing fabrics to consider are the kind of fabrics used in air-supported, frame and tensile fabric structures and canopies. Many interesting examples of these fabric structures can be found on the web. Dependent on the geographic locations’ history with wind, water, humidity, sun, snow and local fire-codes, the fabric used in these structures can be PVC coated polyester, Teflon coated glass, acrylic coated cotton, PVC on polyester mesh, or even the all too familiar cotton canvas or rip-stop nylon.

Fabric structures are an amazing array of miles of coated fabric membranes laced or pierced together. The fabric is made in sheets, coated often with silicon rubber or Teflon, is water and air-tight, and joined together in an overlapped seaming method. Sewers can relate to manipulating fabric and seaming techniques. Sailing enthusiasts are familiar with wind-catching fabric sails under tension. Campers have elevated tenting structures to near marvels of ecological wind and water-resistant design. The industrious web-weaving spiders have contributed useful structural cabling design elements. Engineers and architects have taken elements from all and given us living and public spaces for a new age.

In air-supported structures the fabric is suspended using air pressure, frame-supported structures support fabric over a truss system, and in tensile structures the fabric is stretched over steel cabling and masts. State-of-the-art fabric structures are increasingly being used in public spaces such as convention centers, amphitheaters, sports stadiums, airports, and shopping malls as walls and protective roof structures.

Fabric structures have unique solar and thermal properties making them energy efficient. The high-tech fabrics used are translucent allowing light to penetrate, reducing the energy needed for traditional lighting. The coated fabric has reflective properties reducing the need for cooling in hot climates. In colder climes, fabric layers are used as a sandwich to trap a layer of air that acts as insulation reducing heating costs. The aesthetic flowing beauty of the fabric structure itself becomes a recognizable work of art in its own right.

The process of incorporating fabric into contemporary structures continues to affect and change our environment in radical new ways. Sewing or piercing fabric together is pervasive to the human condition and will long endure. The very process of sewing and manipulating textiles provides a bridge for us to view from the ancient past to our modern and post-modern times. Sewing clothing and manipulating fabric for items for our daily use, from times past to present, adds to our very human historical and contemporary narrative of who we once were and are even now. Sewing processes, design decisions, and choice of textiles can and does give insight into a society’s art, beliefs, and institutions.

From out of a once dire necessity for human survival, to the now pragmatic skill capable of engaging the excited beginner, long-time sewer, or crafty artisan, manipulating fabric whether for clothing or shelter is a mainstay; a learned human endeavor that can connect us with our creative desires, infuse our inventive artistic intentions and perpetuate our cultural persuasions.

Now ancient sewing and fabrication processes have evolved to technological heights and encompass the contemporary engineer’s and architect’s domain for designing and building protective open and enclosed sustainable spaces. Just seeing a soaring fabric structure, like the fabric roof covering the Denver International Airport’s Great Hall, inspires a new appreciation for the ancient timeless art, artistry, and very practical skill and knowledge that piecing together fabric provides us all.

Tensile Fabrics Enhance Architecture around the World

Sew happy, sew inspired.


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Content copyright © 2015 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.

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