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Fabric Structures discussed at symposium

Case Studies | January 1, 2008 | By:

This past year’s Fabric Structures symposium—held the day before IFAI Expo in Las Vegas, Oct. 2, 2007—focused on a single theme that had everyone abuzz: the future and importance of sustainable practices in business. The day-long session opened with a rousing call to action by noted architect and expert on sustainable design Lance Hosey, AIA, LEED AP, partner in what is perhaps the leading sustainability consulting design firm in the world, William McDonough & Partners. Hosey touched on all the key issues that all designers (indeed, all businesses) must address in the near future: adapting existing materials to a more sustainable position, embracing aesthetics as part of successful sustainable designs (not ignoring aesthetics as early practitioners often did during environmentalism’s beginnings in the 1970s), and integrating sustainable concepts into today’s built environment so that these new sustainable-driven forms actually enhance a building’s performance.

Hosey made the trenchant observation that much of sustainability practice today is doing old things better. He notes that many of the earlier environmental movement’s concepts—recycling plastics, rainwater collection for reuse, minimizing biomass impact on ecosystems, etc.—was right minded, just not resolved in sustainable ways so that each concept could contribute to the greater health of the world. He also admitted that much of what was done in the ’70s was ugly. “It doesn’t have to look this way,” he says. “Aesthetics are not ‘icing on the cake’ but integral with design.” However, he warned designers that sustainable designs need to accommodate the unique circumstances of each building—only styles that are appropriate to a region should be used—and that across-the-board, cookie-cutter designs slapped down without regard to local history or styles will not in the end be sustainable.

Hosey was followed by Cindy Thompson, president of Transformit, and a partner in the new collaborative The Fabric Alliance, a sustainability-focused research group that promotes the use of fabrics and fabric structure technology as a sustainable method. Thompson emphasized interior applications, how they can contribute to sustainable efforts, and how important it is to “design for delight.” Designs can utilize new technologies, such as LED lighting and integrated photovoltaics, to increase a building’s efficiency and minimize its negative impact on the environment, while providing a delightful, enriching setting.

Architect Douglas Kozel discussed several modest but highly sophisticated designs for office buildings in the Madison, Wisconsin area, all naturally integrating fabric shade fins on the south sides of the buildings. Landscape architect and professor Bruce Dvorak spoke about the advantages of using green roof technology, geotextiles and geofilters in roof assemblies, and Jeff Galland of S2 and Richard L. Warren of JCI Engineering rounded out the mid-day session with examples of applied sustainable design in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

To explore the future for sustainable design using fabric, structural engineer Craig Huntington of Huntington Design Associates presented an experimental, but successful application of photovoltaic systems on the roof of a Las Vegas parking structure. The project placed reflective tensioned fabric sails underneath the extensive light collectors of the rooftop system, showing us yet another way to integrate fabric elements in cutting-edge designs. Ending the information-packed day, German artist Jens J. Meyer delighted and inspired the audience with numerous examples of his beautiful fabric sculptures, most often installed in gritty or urban settings. By day’s end, the symposium left everyone with renewed energy and inspiration for a future of sustainable design that bodes well for the fabric structures industry.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is the editor of Fabric Architecture.

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