Ancient Rome, new Rottweil
There are still no travel companies offering trips to sites and monuments that have been milestones in the use of textiles as a building material – all of them major architectural achievements of their time.
And the Colosseum in Rome, erected at the end of the first century C.E., is one of them, with a structural framework, consisting, at the time, of 240 masts that made possible the largest textile sunshade system of Antiquity, called the Velarium. But so, too, is the ThyssenKrupp Test Tower, for the lifts of the future, erected almost 2000 years later, on the outskirts of Rottweil (in Baden-Württemberg). The key architectural feature of the 245-metre-high drop tower is that the outer envelope, which looks extremely delicate, almost fragile, has been made from woven PTFE fibre glass – a masterpiece of architectural and engineering ingenuity.
Other stops along our journey through the fascinating history of the use of textiles as building materials all have a single common denominator: they were all realised with significant input ‘(created or) made in Germany’ – be in from architectural practices and planning offices or from German textile manufacturers.
We might mention the roofscapes of the1972 Olympic Park in Munich, which consisted of a network of ropes and acrylic panels. Or the international airport in Bangkok, with its 561 x 210 metre lamella roof and the Expo building in Shanghai with a 65,000 square-metre membrane ceiling. Not forgetting the gigantic high-tech sail at the front of the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai, manufactured by VERSEIDAG AG from Krefeld, a long-standing exhibitor at Techtextil. From there, the route would have to continue to the Bosphorus and the new bridge linking Europe and Asia, with its pylons that have been panelled in textile-reinforced concrete; and then on to Albstadt, to the world’s first footbridge made with carbon-fibre-reinforced concrete (both built with the help of concrete reinforcement manufacturers solidian GmbH) and finally to Saxony, where the first experiments with geotextiles in railway embankments were being undertaken as far back as the 1970s. A propos Saxony: planning is already under way, there, for the first textile-reinforced concrete road bridge ever built and the first carbon-braced concrete building called ‘CUBE’. (see title image)
And the upcoming Techtextil, with its emphasis on ‘Buildtech’, will also be presenting a host of different aspects of building with textiles. A building envelope in textile-reinforced concrete embodying a double curve, for example: CurveTex, a joint development by Penn Textile Solutions and prefabricated building component manufacturers, Stanecker Betonfertigteilwerk (both from Paderborn), together with the Institute for Textile Technology at the RWTH University of Aachen, gives architects a great deal of design freedom. The new lightweight designer envelope – with textile reinforcement instead of steel – is just three centimetres thick and thus weighs only 80 kg instead of the usual 270 kg. There is already a demonstration example of this exterior.
Ettlin Smart Materials from Ettlingen, for their part, are exhibiting a lightweight, thin, architectural, woven fabric that can be used, amongst other things, to create sunshades. Its four main properties have never before been combined in a single material: it is waterproof, breathable, UV-resistant and transparent. Developed in collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), TransProof® is a woven material, which, because of its ability to resist the elements and its potential to provide shade, recommends itself for weather and sun protection applications as well as for tents and awnings. R&D Director, Richard Müller tells us that the particular challenge they faced lay in the development of the coating for the climate-resistant, woven fabric, which has now been patented.
Text: Hans-Werner Oertel
Titel image: Visualisation: Iurii Vakaliuk, TU Dresden