The fabric of Christo

A three kilometre long walkway for 1.2 million people, made of 200,000 floating cubes, on a 65 square kilometre lake in northern Italy. This is the material for the wrapping story ʺThe Floating Piersʺ, with which Christo, with his demonstrable affinity for textiles, recently sent the world into raptures for two weeks. Two textile companies from Germany supplied the fibre-based fabric for the story.

ʺIt was an utterly extraordinary moment when we stepped onto the ʹFloating Piersʹ walkways made from our textilesʺ, says Konrad Schröer. As CEO of the company Setex-Textil, in the small town of Hamminkeln in North Rhine-Westphalia, he was on the spot in Italy with his team. The company had produced about 103,000 square metres of yellowy-orange polyamide fabric to make a kind of ʹcarpetʹ for the floating cubes – as a comparison: the entire office space of the Frankfurt Messeturm skyscraper takes up about 62,000 square metres.

Artistic weaving: over 100,000 square metres of yellowy-orange polyamide fabric made the ʹFloating Piersʹ into eye-catchers / Source: Tobias Patzkowsky, Sputnik

Artistic weaving: over 100,000 square metres of yellowy-orange polyamide fabric made the ʹFloating Piersʹ into eye-catchers / Source: Tobias Patzkowsky, Sputnik

It took ten weeks to manufacture the fabric on a rapier weaving machine (see picture). Setex had already produced the fabrics for two other Christo projects on a similar machine: ʹWrapped Treesʹ in Switzerland and ʹThe Gatesʹ in New York Central Park. ʺNormally our material is used in products that we never set eyes on – in filter hoses, for exampleʺ, says Schröer. He thinks it’s ʺfascinating to experience our own fabrics as eye-catchers for onceʺ. According to Schröer, the challenge of the project lay not only in realising the “very specific ideas” that Mr Christo had in mind, but also in ʺproducing a fabric that was robust and brilliantly-coloured at the same timeʺ.

Well hidden: you can’t always see where the fibres of technical textiles and non-woven fabrics come into play / Source: Wolfgang Volz

Well hidden: you can’t always see where the fibres of technical textiles and non-woven fabrics come into play / Source: Wolfgang Volz

Meanwhile, around 70,000 square metres of non-flammable technical non-woven fabric (felt) made by the firm Altex from Gronau in Westphalia ensured that there was comfort under foot on the undulating floating structure. The non-woven felt, which was installed directly on top of the cubes, and underneath the coloured outer layer of fabric, not only strengthened the foothold of over more than two million visitors, but – like a sticky label – was also covered with a slightly adhesive coating, which served to stabilise the characteristic pleated effect of the coloured outer fabric.

After its Italian journey – unlike Goethe – the fabric will be cut up, torn apart, reduced to shreds and returned to individual fibres by Altex’s textile recycling division. There is a tradition in this: ʺWe took on the task of the fabric recycling back when Christo wrapped the Reichstag“, says Altex’s CEO Dirk Tunney. After they have been shredded, the fibres from the former artwork, compressed into large bales, will go back into non-woven manufacturing and begin a new life as heat insulation in car boots, grass seed mats on embankments, and shopping bags.

And because a video speaks louder than a picture, which in itself can express more than 1,000 words, here are a few more moving images from on the ground.

Ronny Eckert

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