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Digitally printed fabric creates illusion of concrete façade

Features, Graphics | September 1, 2007 | By:

The fabric was used when the Abteiberg Museum moved temporarily into a vacant theater.

On September 18, 2006, in Mönchengladbach, Germany, the Abteiberg Museum shut down for renovations that are scheduled to continue until November, 2007. In order to keep the museum’s services available to the public, the town offered a vacant theater as an alternate location for museum operations.

For the internationally renowned museum space to maintain its unique look and visual reputation, the outside of the theater was wrapped in a digitally printed textile that replicated the concrete walls of the Abteiberg Museum. The fabric was stretched onto frames to create the illusion of an aggregate concrete façade.

The illusion

Mönchengladbach’s vacant town theater wasn’t the most glamorous relocation space for a highly respected museum. To aid in the face lift, museum director Susanne Tietz worked with three companies to design, print and choose fabric for a digitally printed textile façade. Roland, of Offenbach, Germany, printed the digital imagery onto fabric provided by Junkers & Müllers, Mönchengladbach, Germany. Realities United, Berlin, Germany, created the architectural concept and design.

During the scheduled renovation, the Abteiberg needed to recreate its image in the town theater while avoiding the exorbitant amount of money and time building a concrete façade would require. “They were looking for a material that was flame-retardant with a very good print image, highly tear-proof and easy to handle,” says Anja Giersiepen, a spokesperson for Junkers & Müllers, which has been creating digital print fabrics since 2005. “The important decision from our point of view was to use textiles instead of real concrete.”

Digital design

Creating a fake concrete image may not seem like an overly difficult task, but Tietz needed an exact visual replication of the museum’s concrete walls. “From the design and the assembling point of view, there were no special difficulties,” says Giersiepen. “The challenge was to make the illusion as perfect as possible, which we were very successful in doing. The print looks perfectly realistic.”

Junkers & Müllers used their Mediatex® TT Bermuda Ink LS SE fabric for the project. (The company develops fabrics specifically for the digital printing and graphics industry.) The TT Bermuda is a relatively new product that was designed particularly for long-term outdoor use.

“The material is certified as flame-retardant, highly tear-proof, soil-resistant, can be cut hot or cold, and is easily processed due to its soft, textile feel,” Giersiepen says. The strong, workable fabric was just the type of material that worked with the architectural design provided by Realities United. Because it could be printed and then pulled taut on a framework custom-built for the project, the Bermuda TT fabric helped Tietz and the museum turn the town theater into “Museum X,” the name of the temporary relocation project.

Because of its flexibility and strength, the fabric was simply stretched over and stapled onto the framework erected for the façade. Junkers & Müllers chose a non-PVC-based material because PVC’s greater weight and limited flexibility would have been roadblocks in the realization of the transformation of the town theater.

In a press release announcement, Junkers & Müllers explained that “the fabric has multiple polymer coatings, which provide the print with great shine and sharp contours, perfecting the illusion to the highest degree.” Roland Germany’s AJ 1000 and ECO-SOL MAX inks were used for the printing process. The digitally printed fabric with the aggregate concrete design was then stretched onto 60 frames constructed for the façade, measuring 2.5m by 5m each and attached to the 850m2 façade of the town theater. “[The TT Bermuda’s] tear-resistance was even proven during the strong winter storms [we had],” Giersiepen says.

Finished fabric

The temporary relocation of the museum will last for one year and three months, after which there are no future plans for the town theater or the fabric façade. “It’s a temporary solution,” says Giersiepen. “This is the time the real museum needs for renovation. After this, the museum will move back [to its original location]. Right now, I have no idea what the city is going to do with the materials [when they are done with them]—from the textile and print point of view, they could last for years.”

Jake Kulju is a freelance journalist who writes regularly about art and design.

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