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New materials, new outlook

Features | May 1, 2011 | By:

What the future looks like, as seen in Munich

The 2011 Bau Messe (Construction Trade Fair), covering most commercial aspects of architecture, materials and systems for the creation of new structures, takes place in Munich every two years. It’s the largest construction trade fair in Europe—and the volume of people and exhibitors in this year’s event belied reports of a construction downturn in Europe.

This year’s event took place from 17–22 January and was particularly interesting for fans and practitioners of fabric architecture, because it featured a special exhibit entitled: “Sonderschau Textile Architektur,” (“Special Exhibition of Textile Architecture”) and an expert forum from the Fraunhofer Institute, also entitled “Textile Architecture.”

“Several years ago, Dr. Lars Meeß-Olsohn and I started talking about putting together a partner exhibit for trade shows, “ said Dr. Robert Wehdorn-Roithmayr of Formfinder Software GmbH, Vienna, Austria, and the Vienna University of Technology. “This year he took on the job alone, assembling the exhibiting partners and even designing, and leading the construction of the exhibition spaces.”

The exhibition was comprised of 21 partner companies involved in the textile architecture market. Among those exhibiting were specialty producers of membrane materials, producers of steel components for membrane construction, large-format printers, installers, architects, as well as software developers This took place under two air-cushion domes in a courtyard outside of Hall B5 of the Munich Trade Fair grounds.

“The Bau Messe was completely booked this year,” explained Meeß-Olsohn, leader of leichtbaukunst in Velbert, Germany. “We had to build, and exhibit in, our own structures in order to get a critical mass of textile architecture companies together in one place at the fair. All of us contributed design and engineering services, materials, expertise, fabrication capability and some money to put the two domes together on rather short notice.”

The LOOPS dome was constructed from a variety of foils available from the vendors exhibiting there. Its striking design featured a “crown” element in its center that served to stiffen the roof. The second, higher, rounder dome structure was built up from production inflatable cell elements from Pneumocell of Vienna, Austria.

“There were a few hiccups, since this was the first time we’d ever erected the LOOPS dome and the winter weather was really awful, but this really worked well to provide a ‘wow’ factor for us,” expanded Meeß-Olsohn. “Architects love to see things and be inspired—it’s a lot easier to talk about products and service applications when there is something to point to as an example. The futuristic air-cushion structures also served to inform people about what to expect inside, giving them the beginning of an idea of what is possible.”

“I find the idea of a partnership exhibit really valuable,” said Dr. Dieter Ströbel of technet GmbH. “It gives small companies visibility in such a big trade fair. Otherwise, it’s hard to justify the cost of a tradeshow booth. This concept made it easy for our customers to find us and distributed the cost among many partners, all of whom serve architects and engineering firms in different ways.”

I’ll cover some the content from the Fraunhofer Institute’s expert forum in more detail in a later article, but the general theme of the forum was progress in technical research from several of Fraunhofer Institute’s competence centers. Topics covered were: research into the demands on membrane materials and their physical properties, acoustic research applications for membrane materials, functional coatings for membrane materials (e.g., anti-bacterial), gas-chrome illumination for air-cushion systems, laser-welding of ETFE foils and the resultant mechanical properties, and a new technology for gluing ETFE foils.

Mark Zeh, contributing editor for Fabric Architecture, is a Munich-based consultant on product innovation and writes regularly about fabric architecture and design.

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