The Fabric of architecture, literally!

The science of architecture is all about constantly improving, evolving and exploring. Architects and designers across the globe have a passion for exploration and discovery of better techniques, designs and even materials. The right materials form the backbone of any project.

Having the right material is the first step to actualising any design to perfection. As the needs of designers and consumers change, so do the materials that form the base of the industry. Especially, in the era of today where sustainability and more responsible choices have become an urgent need, an additional box to check in the material list is to ensure whether it is the most responsible pick. 


Amidst the call for sustainability and greener designs, the term sustainable architecture has been catching a lot of attention. Consumers and architects alike are realizing the need and are swapping to more sustainable choices in construction so as to keep the negative footprints left on the environment at bay.

One of the materials increasingly being featured is, surprisingly, fabric. We see pieces and shreds of fabric around us each day not thinking much of it, yet the magnitude of impact it has been having on architecture is rather stellar. 


Here’s a look into how strands of fabric are woven into the world of architecture. 


DECODING THE USE OF FABRIC IN ARCHITECTURE 

The utilization of fabric in architecture is not a new concept, but its widespread use is definitely new. Fabrics have been utilized by human civilisations since ancient times in setting up bases. Be it tents, teepees, or even the camps we set up in today’s time, fabrics form a significant part in the construction of such structures.

However, for the longest time, the use of fabric in construction has been limited to outdoor tourism or recreation purposes. A new era for fabric in architecture is now upon us. 

 


Architects and designers alike are recognising the potential of fabric to serve well in projects be they residential or commercial. Fabrics have a fluidity that make them flexible enough to fit into any and every design just right. Above all, since it is a sustainable material, it is being widely accepted as a pick over conventional materials.

More and more people are embracing and actualising the potential of fabric to serve as a functional and aesthetic material all around. From interiors to facades, fabrics are bound to leave their mark on the AEC industry. 


WHY ARE FABRICS THE RIGHT PICK ?

There are a bunch of different reasons why fabrics have emerged as a pick for construction. 


#1 ENERGY EFFICIENT 

 

In a world where sustainability and planning/preserving for the future has become essential, energy efficiency in construction too has become the top priority. To create structures that not only are built responsibly but are able to withstand in a eco friendly manner is thus essential.

Fabric utilization helps achieve just that. To begin with, the very process of fabric manufacturing is not a very toxic one. Further, fabrics offer natural temperature regulation due to its solar and thermal reflection qualities.

This would mean a lesser need for electronic heating/cooling systems within a structure ultimately helping reduce energy consumption and even save on electricity bills. 


#2 VERSATILITY OF MATERIALS

 

Fabrics have a large number of vast arrays of options for one to choose from. No matter the design, a fabric just right for it can be found with ease. There are certain factors which could be kept in mind to help narrow down your options of fabrics.

To begin with you would have to consider the climatic conditions to understand which kinds of fabrics would withstand the region's climate the best. Examining the needed durability and flexibility is also important to ensure that the fabric has the capacity to gel with your design.

Lastly, the textural element is also key to the aesthetic factor of a project. Considering these factors could help you pin down fabrics best for your project. 

#3 SHORTER CONSTRUCTION TIME 

King Fahad National Library, Rihad

One of the biggest advantages of utilizing fabric in construction is that it significantly brings down the construction time. Fabrics for construction are pre engineered in a controlled setting.

The ready to install fabric panels are then transported and installed onto a ready steel frame . The overall manufacturing and installation thus ends up saving a lot of time as compared to conventional construction.

The quick installation has actually been one of the features most compelling to architects when designing huge stadiums and/or arenas as fabrics help protect the space in a flash. This would also translate into a lower cost needed to set up a structure making it an efficient pick. 

#4 CUSTOMISABLE PROPERTIES 

Arena de Amezonia, Brazil

Construction fabrics are made to be drastically different from conventional ones. Considering that they have to withstand weather changes and hold together for a long period of time, they have to be tailored to have that sort of strength and durability.

This is done through different forms of coatings to the fabric depending on what is needed. The coatings include UV protection, water resistance, glass fibers etc. Each of the coatings serve a particular purpose.

Depending on the environment and the kind of structure being built, the coatings can be chosen to ensure that the fabric is able to hold together with minimum to no wear and tear. 

#5 COST EFFECTIVE 

Empire Casino, New York

The cost of going for a pre engineered fabric installation racks up a lot less than general construction methods. To begin with, since the fabrics are manufactured through machines, the man power cost comes up to be a lot lower.

Secondly, the time, energy and resources cost also goes significantly down due to easy and quick installation. Especially for bigger structures which could otherwise require years of work with a long army of manpower, a fabric setting can significantly cut down the cost and time. This convenience is why it has been chosen to be incorporated in museums and stadium designs around the world.

Lastly, since there is a bunch of different curing and coating done to the fabrics, they are known to last decades at end in a place and are rather easy to maintain, bringing down the cost of maintenance significantly. 

#RECYCLE/RELOCATE WITH EASE 

 

Another great advantage of utilizing fabric in construction is that it has the capacity to be recycled. Since the basic building block is simply fabric, in case of replacement or removal the fabrics can easily be repurposed to be used elsewhere.

This would mean a lot less waste would be generated making it the ecologically ideal pick. Furthering on this is its ability to relocate. In case a particular structure or setting has to be relocated to another spot, using fabrics gives the freedom to do so.

Instead of tearing down walls, the fabric can simply be unbolted, packed and shifted to another place ready for installation saving time, energy and resources. 


Overall, the era of fabric in architecture seems like it is here to stay, and rightly so. Fabric as a construction material offers a fresh new look while also being a rather responsible pick. Not to forget, the aesthetic appeal that it has is rather a vision to look at. The material is thus bound to have an impact on the industry, one strand at a time.

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