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Drawing to inform/inspire

Exteriors, Features | January 1, 2011 | By:

Legendary tension tent designer Bill Moss used sketchbooks like most architects use restaurant napkins: to get the next fleeting idea down before it disappeared

In 1955, Bill Moss, painter and illustrator, invented the PopTent, a tensioned-fabric tent, launching a revolution in camping equipment and changing how people around the world enjoy the outdoors.

Like most designers, Moss sketched as a means to explore possibilities and he did so in abundance throughout his 71 years. At the time of his death in 1994, Moss left behind more than 30 sketchbooks, most of them the familiar small black hardbound artist’s sketchbook.

One sketchbook, dated from Sept. 16, 1987 to mid-July 1988, is a snapshot of how Moss thought and of the incredibly diverse range of design problems and subjects that held his interest. This was a period of transition, of frequent travel for Moss when he was beginning to pull away from the Portland, Maine base of Moss Inc., a company he helped start as Moss Tent Works, but for which he no longer had financial or personal interest. In the late 1980s, Moss relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he established Bill Moss Inc.

Intense changes in life have a way of stimulating creativity and Moss used every moment of travel to explore new concepts and fabrication methods as evidenced by the prolific numbers of drawings found in his sketchbooks. For example, in the ’87–’88 sketchbook Moss drew and noted his thoughts for a portable studio, a temporary shelter for disaster survival, modular display shells, a fabric ceiling system and his initial concepts for a fabric sculpture installation in the Scottsdale desert of Taliesin West where he was anticipating a residency as a guest artist. (See the article in FA, Nov/Dec 2010.) Gazing at one of Moss’s sketchbooks is to observe creative genius in action.

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

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