Space articulation with fabric adds design flair with practical appeal
Fabric Architecture | January 2011
By Carla Waldemar
Heard a lot of hammering lately? Not likely. The construction industry is among the hardest hit in this bleak economy. Few housing subdivisions, office parks, megamalls or public institutions are breaking ground these days. Yet retail businesses, hospitals, colleges, exhibition arenas and even homeowners cannot always manage with the status quo. While they may not be able to afford new brick-and-mortar renovations, they still need to adapt to new configurations, save energy, retire tired décor and, most important in some facilities, capture and retain public attention.
This perfect storm could be a compelling reason to use fabric to deliver practical, versatile, attractive, functional and economical alterations to interior spaces: pizzazz sans plywood and plasterboard, not to mention wallpaper and paint.
Projects that lend themselves to interior use of fabrics run the gamut from restaurants and malls to theaters, spas, hospitals, museums, corporate headquarters, casinos, university buildings, event/exhibit installations and office complexes.
The stakes have changed as competition grows more intense. The joy of collaboration, for designers and architects, is that they can sketch their creative visions on the proverbial napkin, provide a corporate logo or the theme of an event, and have the confidence that fabricators have the know-how and technology to make it happen. The process generally entails sourcing and printing the fabric, then delivering and installing it according to specifications.
“Forward-thinking architects are catching on,” says Jim Miller, owner of J. Miller Canvas Inc., Santa Ana, Calif. “We simply bring them up to speed. But since they are already very creative people by nature, they come in with ideas, which we formulate into a project.”
“Some need explanations,” says Kay Grams, president of Juxtaform LLC in Tempe, Ariz., “but once they get it, they’re off and running, caught up in the aesthetic potentials of it.” Susanne Jansson, principal of Better Mousetrap LLC, headquartered in Long Island City, N.Y., agrees. “They tell us what they’re looking for, and we tell them what it takes to get it to us, and in what format. Event coordinators are especially forward-thinking—always on to the next new thing,” she adds. Miller talks fondly about a rewarding relationship with Clive Wilkinson Architects of Los Angeles—“very forward-thinking regarding fabric structures. With his vision, we came up with ideas for the conference room of a large telephone manufacturing company in Helsinki.”
Heather Collins, marketing director for Cambridge Architectural in Cambridge, Md., comments that “We do a whole lot of education—on how to use it, on attachment systems and variations. Architects get on our website and become intrigued by the palette, and then we walk them through the selection and specification process. In fact, we have a whole education program, with continuing education credits for the AIA, regarding uses, specs, etc.”
The catchphrase to define what these firms offer is “space articulation.” Juxtaform offers everything from a petite JUXTAWING™, particularly popular in office spaces to attach to a wall as a fin or perch on a desktop to achieve privacy or hide a site, up to grand atrium configurations that achieve considerable visual drama. “We can also cut out openings within the fabric to add interest and function,” Grams adds.
Miller points to a recent project for Bloomingdale’s in Santa Monica, Calif., that created white spandex pod-shaped changing rooms, motorized to elevate so that the quarters can double as event space. Restaurants clamor for his sliding shade panels that extend seating or offer space planning for conference rooms.
Eventscape Inc., Toronto, Ont., Canada, with experience in more than 20 countries, flexed its innovative engineering and fabrication muscles with a recent project for FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich. According to marketing and communications director Elaine Allen-Milne, “The architect’s concept involved giant columns, big diameters and 6m high. With both functionality and value in mind, they started with perforated metal at the base, then transitioned to acrylic, which is lighter, and then to a 7m diameter translucent fabric cone, which is less costly and allows more lighting.” In addition to creating excitement on the casino floor, these columns also hide the room’s large HVAC equipment.
Bob Helmsing, vice president of Lawrence Fabric Structures Inc. in St. Louis, Mo., was approached with a plan by a design firm to renovate and decorate a vacated church as its new headquarters and studio. “To achieve partitioning, our staff, led by Mark Schopp, director of engineering and design, came up with ways to do so using aluminum-framed fabric panels, some of them motorized and moveable. The end result was strikingly beautiful,” Helmsing notes, “and fabric was the primary agent of change.”
Design: space, light and color
“Over the years, we’re seeing more and more organic shapes, because the technology is there—as evidenced in Zaha Hadid’s Burnham Pavilion,” says Allen-Milne. “Look for a lot more ceiling treatments, and in varying patterns, in the future,” says Collins: “Space sculpting. Architects love it! And sectionals that require less grid—up to 30m lengths that don’t create that sectional grid effect. Architects love that, too. Also, curtains transforming daylight will continue to grow, as in the Quilt Museum.”
“Over the years, fabric has changed—morphed into all varieties of synthetics,” says Helmsing. “More things are being printed than ever before as people gain awareness that it’s a great way to lower costs while you change the appearance of a building. And ink is changing by the month as new fabrics come out. In the early stages, it was just a fad; now it’s a trend, and it’s snowballing. The things that can be done are limitless.”