March 19, 2009

Extreme Textiles--A Transformed Architecture

The essay titled “A Transformed Architecture” by Philip Beesley and Sean Hanna presents developments of textile-based building concepts and related examples of architectural projects. They claim the textile-based structures revolutionize the architecture to achieve the goals of lighter, stronger, more responsive, and more efficient. A range of examples, including some familiar buildings such as the Swiss Re Headquarters by Foster and Partners, is used to demonstrate the ideas for the incorporation of textile technologies in the building of lightweight floating cities.

Philip Beesley and Sean Hanna, in the beginning, discuss the origin of textiles-based construction, which exists in the settlement in the Paleolithic age. That is, the first building materials to emerge were not masonry, but textiles. Also, the present technology emerging returns to these traditions and share many of the underlying principles from ancient woven construction concepts like wattle-and-daub and thatch because these ancient integrated fabric can provide excellent tensile strength and then still suit lightweight building systems today. Further, the fabric is constantly evolving such as new fibers composed by glass and carbon.

In the following contents, authors explain the textile systems’ efficiency compared with traditional construction and described two methodologies for analyzing textile systems. Traditional buildings are quite vulnerable to shifting and buckling forces; that is, wind and earthquakes (lateral and upward-pulling pressures) increase the challenge of traditional buildings. However, thin and continuous strands of resilient material in textile systems can easily handle these tensile and even more complex forces. On the other hand, Buckminster Fuller and John Argyris invented Synergy in the 1940s and Finite Element Analysis in the 1950s respectively. These analysis methods play the key underlying role in analysis and design fabric structures.

In the last part of the essay, the four textile examples with innovative insights into designing are offered for demonstrating the textile-based buildings’ benefits. The first project, Peter Testa’s Carbon Tower, is built of carbon fiber and composite materials. In this forty-story office building, the main structure is woven together and achieves an unparalleled synergy of elements. The Carbon Tower offers the efficiency on dealing with forces, the saving expense of transportation on light materials and the potential to last longer and require less maintenance. The second example involves Michael Maltzan’s Lenoa Drive Residence consisted of stiff and light materials based on carbon-fiber textile. The project provides a possibility of serving a family’s daily life. Inflatable and rigidizabale structures are discussed in the third work developed at ILC Dover and Vertigo. These rigidisable structures, like Airbeam, flexible epoxy-coated fiberglass, shape-memory polymers, can offer far more strength and possible uses with readily changing shape than other existing inflatable structures. The last study relates to Floating Cities based on geotextiles, which are landscape-engineering technologies that are literally woven into the earth. In this field, the textile systems are used to prevent soil erosion or protect embankments (or slopes) or cultivate and reposition plants. This technology affects scales from artificial landscapes to entire cities.

-Julian Wang

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