The Teflon Pavilion

Even for experts, the term Polytetrafluorethylene is too complicated – but abbreviates to PTFE, which we know in ordinary language as Teflon. And this is the material, also used to make spacesuits for astronauts, in which Dutch star architect, Ben van Berkel has designed a fibre space pavilion. We had a word with him.

Star architect in cheerful mood: Ben van Berkel in the middle of his ‘Space Habitat’ in the special ‘Living in Space’ exhibition at Techtextil

Mr. van Berkel, what is the difference between a large-scale project like your Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam  and the “Space Habitat” at Techtextil?
(Laughs) That is a pretty large-scale bridge isn’t it! Both projects involve the battle against external natural forces, that we, as architects, need to take account of. On Mars, of course, they are to a large extent different from those on Earth.

Can you tell us a little about Habitat?
It consists of around 60 individual double-curved modules with a surface area of 40 square metres and covered with the PTFE fibre material from our partners, lightweight construction and woven fabric specialists MDT-tex. This ultra-light material has a major role to play in space travel, not least for spacesuits. There, it functions to protect the astronauts from the sun’s rays, from heat and from ultra-violet light. These are important features in an inhospitable environment like that on Mars. Even the tiniest weight savings are crucial, for every gram counts when it comes to space travel.

Would you travel to Mars yourself, in order to construct a pavilion like this?
There’s a story from my childhood: when the first man stood on the moon (we all know who I am talking about) – my father had got hold of a colour television specially for that one moment …. and it was just overwhelming. So to answer your question: I would do it – it is not for nothing that I flirt with the topic from an architectural point of view – although I should need to do a bit of sport to get in shape a bit beforehand!

Why did you choose a textile fair and not a construction show for your ‘flirtation’ with Mars?
Because there are design ideas in my head that are best put into practice using fibres. It is unbelievably flexible as a material, but it’s also robust and functional. Moreover, with Habitat, I want to demonstrate that people should listen up: fibre is a material to be taken seriously – and will be taking off big-time in 3-5 years.

Last year, you and your architectural practice, UNStudio,  were successful in the competition to redesign the Frankfurt Deutsche Bank complex (Project ‘Four’ ), competing against the ideas of some very famous architects. Project developer,  Jürgen Groß, said recently that he hoped the planned billion euros would be enough  to see the project through. Will it be enough?
(Laughs) Did he say that? Well, yes – I do think it will be enough.

What major billion-euro project would Ben van Berkel undertake using textiles?
I would design a new kind of campus, whose design made it an inviting and stimulating place in which to develop innovative ideas for socially important areas such as health, environmental protection and education. And if there were still any money left over, I would immediately start designing a second campus like it

Source Headerbild: MDT-tex & Becker Lacour

Ronny Eckert

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