Article

Sustainable Textile Architecture: History and Prospects

Abstract and Figures

Textiles are now used in various applications in different fields, including the building industry. “Textile Architecture” and “Fabric Structures” are gaining new prominence in the construction world because of their multiple unique characteristics, such as being lightweight, low cost, and durable, as well as offering low energy consumption, flexibility, and resilience. In particular, they are respected for their capability of enclosing large spans with minimal material use and construction time. These characteristics appear to offer the potential to develop a unique textile architecture that can also guarantee environmental sustainability. Fabric structures have been used throughout history, beginning with the early tents built by humans to provide shelters against harsh weather conditions, where no natural shelters were available, and stretching to the the present time, with structures that have been elaborated to meet the needs of more complex applications in different forms, shapes and sizes. The further development of high-quality materials has triggered a renaissance in textile architecture, yet the current lack of knowledge and limited research on the development of textile architecture and the potentials of such unique structures and techniques in terms of developing sustainable urban contexts, is an ongoing issue. Accordingly, the present paper aims to explore the historical development of textile architecture, and to shed light on the vast range of contemporary modern uses, and architectural applications, as well as discussing the future prospects of this unique sustainable architecture, which may influence the development of new ideas to create aesthetic and cultural contexts within the urban environment. The paper utilises a descriptive research methodology, by tracing the development of such structures to to clarify the recent worldwide progress in the field of architecture in terms of producing outstanding sustainable designs and technical solutions utilising textiles.
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Sustainable textile architecture: history and prospects
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IOP Conf. Series: Materials Science and Engineering 1067 (2021) 012046
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1
Sustainable textile architecture: history and prospects
R A Shareef *, H A S Al-Alwan*
*Dept. of Architectural Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Baghdad
Corresponding author’s email: renasun4@yahoo.co.uk
Abstract. Textiles are now used in various applications in different fields, including the building
industry. Textile Architecture and Fabric Structures are gaining new prominence in the
construction world because of their multiple unique characteristics, such as being lightweight,
low cost, and durable, as well as offering low energy consumption, flexibility, and resilience. In
particular, they are respected for their capability of enclosing large spans with minimal material
use and construction time. These characteristics appear to offer the potential to develop a unique
textile architecture that can also guarantee environmental sustainability.
Fabric structures have been used throughout history, beginning with the early tents built by
humans to provide shelters against harsh weather conditions, where no natural shelters were
available, and stretching to the the present time, with structures that have been elaborated to meet
the needs of more complex applications in different forms, shapes and sizes.
The further development of high-quality materials has triggered a renaissance in textile
architecture, yet the current lack of knowledge and limited research on the development of textile
architecture and the potentials of such unique structures and techniques in terms of developing
sustainable urban contexts, is an ongoing issue. Accordingly, the present paper aims to explore
the historical development of textile architecture, and to shed light on the vast range of
contemporary modern uses, and architectural applications, as well as discussing the future
prospects of this unique sustainable architecture, which may influence the development of new
ideas to create aesthetic and cultural contexts within the urban environment. The paper utilises a
descriptive research methodology, by tracing the development of such structures to to clarify the
recent worldwide progress in the field of architecture in terms of producing outstanding
sustainable designs and technical solutions utilising textiles.
Keywords: textile architecture; fabric structures; tents; environmental sustainability
1. Introduction:
The use of "technical textiles" has recently become widespread, though applications of textiles in
industries other than clothing have occurred since early history, with fibres, yarns, and fabrics of
multiple types being used in applications ranging from engineering to the production of ropes, sail
clothes, canopies… etc. [1]. A key application of technical textiles is in architecture, a process thus
known as ''textile architecture''. The use of textiles in architecture, as displayed by the development of
''fabric structures'', has a long history, dating back to 40.000- 44.000 BCE, ranging from the period of
pre-historic age, and continuing into the modern day. Though, this field of application is witnessing
noticeable development day by day [2]. Such structures have many modern uses and valuable
applications in architecture based on responses to human needs and the demands of various activities.
The following sections reveal the historical development of textile architecture, with a special
emphasis on modern uses and applications towards achieving remarkable sustainable architecture that
can enhance the urban environment.
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2. Textile architecture in ancient times:
Fabric structures have been used by humans since ancient times, when simple textiles made of animal
skins (leather, fur, wool or hair), tree bark, or palm fronds were used to cover wooden frames made of
tree branches or heaped animal bones to provide early shelters or dwellings, where materials that are
used to build more permanent shelters were rare, or when there was a need for temporary shelter, as well
as providing protection against extreme weather conditions such as sun's heat, wind, rain, sandstorms,
and snow [3].
The origins of textile structures can be traced back over 44,000 years, from the ice age in the Siberian
Steppes; where remains had been discovered and identified as “simple tent-like shelters” created by
Mousterian cultures (Neanderthals who lived in the Middle Palaeolithic period in Europe), and their
tents were characterised by low-domed shelters constructed from animals skins tied to timber frames of
tree sticks [2], or attached to the accumulated bones of mammoths [4] (Figure 1a). Dillehay also
documented conical-shaped timber-framed structures covered with mastodon skins found in Chile that
dated back to approximately 13000 BCE [5] (Figure 1b).
Archaeologists have discovered seasonal housing sites in Pincevent in France that offer evidence of
tents made of wooden poles supporting animal skin covers dated to 8,000 BCE, which had been assumed
to be built by nomadic peoples who changed their settlements seasonally [6] (Figure 1c), while
excavations in Russia have produced remains of lightweight housings created from conical structures
made of wood, and even other remains of structures erected from animal bones covered with tree bark
or animal skins (belonged to the Stone Age) dating back to 4000 BCE [4] (Fig.1d).
Figure1. Ancient historic tents
a- A low domed shelter back to the Mousterian tribes, (44000 BCE) [4].
b- A conical shelter, Chile (13000 BCE) [4].
c- A conical tent, France (8000 BCE) [6].
d- A conical tent, Russia (4000 BCE) [4].
Nomadic cultures around the world have used animal skin as fabric, to cover wooden structures to create
shelters (traditional tents), with many different designs, sizes, and shapes emerging over thousands of
years, up to date. The most common examples of traditional tents in ancient times would be illustrated
below:
2
.
1 Conical tents :
2
.
1
.
1
Keti:
This tent type was widely used by the Lapp tribes, a nomadic people from Siberia. These were covered
with reindeer leather, or softened bark [6] (Figure 2a).
2
.
1
.
2
Tupiq:
Used by the Inuit tribes of Northern Canada and the Eskimos in Alaska. The design of the tupiq is similar
to that of the keti, with a demountable, conical wooden framed structure covered with a caribou or seal
skin. However, a tupiq has no upper chimney [6] (Figure 2b).
2
.
1
.
3
Tipì, tepee, or teepee:
Used by the Red Indians of North America. Tipì is the most developed among the conical-shaped tents,
being characterised by the use of a double-layer of animal skin (bison), which makes the inner space
warmer in winter and well ventilated in summer [6], (Figure 2c).
(a)
(b)
(d)
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Figure 2. Conical tents
a- Keti, b- Tupiq, c- Tipi [7] .
2.2. Mongolian tent (cylindrical type):
2.2.1 Yurt, yurta, kherga, kabitka, or ger:
The Asian-Mongolian tent used by East Asian tribes and residents of the Asian plains from China to
Iran. It consists of multiple layers of mat or felt coverings rather than tensioned fabrics; these are then
wrapped with ropes around the perimeter [6] [8] (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Yurt covered with cloth fabric, Kyrgyzstan [6] [8].
2.3 Textile fabric tents (velum type)
:
2.3.1 The Bedouin nomadic black tent:
Such tents, made of goat hair, are still used by the Arab Bedouin tribes. This represents one of the most
successful, simplest, and oldest textile fabric structures, and forms the basis of many contemporary
tensile fabric structures [3] (Figure 4a).
2.3.2 Tibetan tent:
These are also known black tents” or spider tents”, and they are used by the tribes in the Tibetan
plateau. The structure is covered with yak leather [9] (Figure 4b).
2.3.3 Tuareg tent:
These were used by the Tuareg nomads (Berber tribes) in the north-western part of the Great African
desert. The structure is covered with animal hides or mats [10] (Figure 4c).
Figure 4. Velum tent type
a-Bedouin Black Tent, Syrian desert [4][6]. b- Tibetan black tent [9]. c- Tuareg Tent, African desert [10].
Although all these traditional tents rely on materials with relative durability of limited duration, they
provide high levels of comfort for their occupants during their lifespans.
(a)
(b)
(c)
(a)
(b)
(c)
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2.4 Semi-vault tents:
During the excavations of the ancient Babylon and Sumer civilisations in Iraq, archaeologists found
evidence of ancient markets very similar to their modern ones in the 1930s in that both had temporary
commercial stalls covered with top canopies or awnings made of fabric to protect shoppers from the
direct sun [11]. Similarly, a stone relief was found in Nineveh (Mosul), in Iraq, which was identified as
showing an Assyrian tent from the Sennacherib camp of the Assyrian Empire (704 - 681 BCE) (Figure
5). The tent structure had central poles with forked branched upper ends forming a semi-vault structure
covered with animal skin, felt, or woven fabric, which was attached by ropes and fixed directly to the
ground [4].
Figure 5. Semi-vault tents
The Assyrian tent, ancient Iraq [4][10].
3. Textile architecture in the classical and Roman period (100 BCE to 400 CE):
Textile architecture had evolved over time significantly in Europe, leading to the building of lightweight
structures characterised by large scale sizes; this development derived from the advantage of sailing
experience, which represented the first step into the development of architectural fabric structures [12].
Notable and outstanding examples for such structures of this period include:
3.1 The retractable textile roof of the Colosseum 70 - 80 CE:
Studies on remains such as coins, frescoes, and reliefs has indicated that "textile sunshade roof systems"
were applied to theatres, amphitheatres, circuses, and stadiums by the Romans, in Rome in the first
century BCE, and these were then spread to other European regions and even north Asia (Turkey). These
textile covers were built by the reuse of old naval sails, and this step can thus be considered a significant
milestone in the transformation of the technology from maritime into architectural use, in the form of
ephemeral lightweight textile shading structures [6].
The Velarium (Velaria or Vela) was one of the earliest main applications of temporary textile roof
apparatus, which was built by the Romans to cover the Colosseum amphitheatre to block the sun and
protect the spectators during hot summer daylights. This retractable cover was characterised by its
foldability, thus allowing it to be retracted and folded to provide an open area up to the sky and allow
airflow during sticky summer nights [13] [14] (Figure 6). Nowadays, this tradition is being used in the
form of “todlos” and “awnings” in Mediterranean regions and southern Spain, and even in the coverings
of contemporary stadiums [2] [15].
3.2 Military Tents:
Military tents were first designed and developed by the Romans in response to army requirements. These
tents were made of fabric or animal leather with inclined roofs. These tents were temporary, portable
and mobile structures, which could be assembled and dismantled in site. However, this tradition of
utilising such portable structures has been inherited in many parts of Europe [6]. Archaeological
excavations of Roman remains have allowed the discovery of these tents through drawings, such as
those, which were engraved over Trajan's column, including the “papilio” or butterfly tent [4] (Figure
7).
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Figure 6. Retractable, foldable textile roof of the Colosseum, Rome, Italy [14] [15].
Figure 7. Roman military tent
a- Trajan column, showing depicted drawings of military tents. b- Papilio tent [4] [10].
4. Textile architecture in the Ottoman period (1299 - 1923 CE):
Textile structures during the Ottoman Empire were represented by tented buildings used for military
purposes, seasonal trips, and housing important imperial occasions. These tents were often linked to
each other, forming complexes of interlaced tents of different purposes, sizes, and forms (conical,
marquee, trapezoid, or circular) [6]. The most important tents were the “imperial tents” of the Ottoman
Sultans, known as “Otağ” or “Otak”. These tents acted as temporary mobile palaces or mobile pavilions,
characterised by decorated gilded ornaments and paintings over the fabric (cloth or leather) and columns,
(Figure 8). Such tents, for the Ottomans, were clearly symbols of power, identity, and wealth [16].
Figure 8. Ottoman imperial tents [16].
5- Textile architecture in the Renaissance period in Europe (1300 to 1600 CE):
The use of tents for military applications begun by the Romans, was continued by the Byzantine armies
until the 7th.century. During the 12th century, royal tents were first used for public or special occasions
in Europe. Royal tents were developed over the years, and by the 16th century, they had become bigger
and more ornamented, gaining more architectural significance and becoming symbols of frivolity, fun
and entertainment [2].
Royal tents were very popular in the European royal courts during the renaissance and baroque periods,
and this played an important role in the development and growth of textile architecture, by erecting
temporary textile structures for entertainment purposes that showed and reflected their power, glory,
prosperity, and dominance almost anywhere [12].
Outstanding examples of the use of royal tents are found in the royal banqueting and entertainment tents
created for the event known as the Field of Cloth of Gold, technically a political meeting between the
British king, Henry VIII, and the French king, Francis I, in France in 1522. The resulting complex
(a)
(b)
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consisted of one major tent surrounded by 16 minor ones. The major tent consisted of a wooden circular
structure with a central mast that rose up to 40 m high, to support a double skin membrane pitched roof
and vertical walls. The external layer was made of a waterproof fabric, while the inner layer was
decorated with ornaments that represented the “sky” (Fig.9). The minor tents also had wooden
structures, and these rose up around 12 m high [6].
Figure 9. Royal European tent (Henry's tent) for the Field of Cloth of Gold [12].
6. Textile architecture in the 18th and 19th century/ The Industrial Revolution age:
After textile architecture’s development of simple and traditional tents, textile materials played no
noticeable role in architecture until the second half of the 19th century. Textile materials were not
accepted as a major building material before that period due to their minimal longevity and transient
nature [17]. Concurrently, with the development of materials and building technologies during the
industrial revolution, the textile industry using mechanical spinning became popular and spread widely,
especially in England. This offered people the ability to build large portable and mobile tents that could
be installed and dismantled quickly and easily. These tents were adopted for various recreational
purposes, such as traveling circuses, at the end of the 19th century [18]. Besides recreational purposes,
textiles were used for health purposes, covering social activities, and for acoustic and sound dampening,
at the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Natural fibres such as cotton, linen, silk and wool, were the main raw materials used to produce textile
fabrics during that time. Coated textiles were first used in the 18th century, being coated with flax oil;
these were then replaced with rubber in the 19th century, which represented the first attempts to produce
multi-layered materials with weatherproof properties [12].
Notable textile structures emerging during the industrial revolution included:
6.1 Travelling/ Transportable/ Movable Circus Tents:
Changes in circus tents represented several major development in textile structures during the industrial
revolution. In the late 17th century, the first circus tent was erected with a diameter of 15 m. Then, by
the end of 18th century, larger circus tents, referred to as “big tops” with diameters of 50 m were produced
for multiple-cast performances; these were transported around Europe and USA by railway. This
development occurred in parallel with the establishment of Stromeyer's Co., in Germany, which made
major contributions to developing textile fabric structures [2].
6.2 Types of Circus Tents:
6.2.1 Framed tent:
These frame structures had an independent frame, made of wood or metal, that was covered with a
weatherproof canvas, creating a type of structures suitable for large open flat areas (open gardens). A
notable example was used by the “Cirque Palisse”, in 1911, which featured a round wooden structure
with a diameter of 36 meters, covered with a fabric [6] (Figure 10a).
6.2.2 Parasol, umbrella, or chapiteau tent:
These tensile structures used one or more masts to support the tensioned textile roof and were
characterised by resistance to climatic conditions. This type of structure was most suitable for limited
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hard areas. Notable examples included the Barnum and Bailey tents of The Greatest Show on Earth
carnival of 1898. This complex had 12 huge pavilions formed of water repellent fabric, and the diameter
of the main circus tent extended up to 50 metres, creating an inclined roof [6] (Figure 10b).
6.3 Temporary Hospitals:
The use of textile structures as temporary mobile hospitals began in the 18th and 19th centuries; these
both housed the war-wounded and were used to isolate people with contagious diseases, being most
frequently used by the US army in the late 19th century [20] (Fig.11a). In 1918, this experience was
successfully implemented in Europe and the USA, where by erecting temporary open-air hospitals,
patients infected with Spanish flu were encouraged to get better faster without infecting others [21]
(Figure 11b).
6.4 Other Functions:
Other functions of textile structures developed at the beginning of the industrial revolution, including
the use of sunshades or covers for recreational activities such as restaurants and other social activities,
providing shelter for users. In the middle of the 19th century, textile structures began to be incorporated
into glass facades to provide sunshades for French markets and English greenhouses, and into interior
spaces to provide sound insulation, as in the "acoustic membranes" used inside the Crystal Palace at the
Haendel Festival in London, in 1859 [13] (Figure 12).
Figure10. Types of Circus Tents
a- Framed tents Cirque Palisse [19]. b- Parasol tents of the Greatest Show on Earth [6].
Figure11.Temporary hospitals
a- American hospital tent [20]. b- Temporary emergency open-air hospital camp for the
influenza pandemic, USA, 1918 [21].
Figure12. Other Functions
Acoustic membranes at the Crystal Palace [13].
7- Textile Architecture in the 20th Century:
Textile architecture underwent several revolutionary developments during the 20th century, especially
after World War II, when the technology of lightweight structures was transferred from various aviation
(a )
(b )
(a )
(b )
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and military applications into architecture. New textile materials, polymers, fabrics, fibres, and coatings
were also developed during the 2nd half of the century; thus, finding new applications in industry and
architecture. Since then, textile structures became larger and more complex, with various shapes and
sizes used to enclose larger spaces with different functions related to human activities such as events,
pavilions, exhibitions, stadia roofs… etc. [12].
7.1 Materials:
The rapid development of tensile structures in the second half of the twentieth century was primarily
due to developments in polymeric chemistry, which led to the production of various synthetic materials
characterised by lightness, high performance, and efficiency [22]. In 1947, polyester fibres were
introduced to the industry, then in the late 1960s, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) was adopted as a basic
coating material for textile structures. Due to the increasing need to create more permanent membrane
structures in the early 1970s, fiberglass coated with Teflon©, or Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), was
produced as a more durable alternative solution than PVC- coated polyester. PTFE-coated fiberglass
had a life expectancy of at least 20 years compared to PVC-coated polyester’s lifespan of 10 to 15 years.
In the 1990s, modern foils and films such as Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) were first used for
various architectural purposes, and ETFE is now used in the form of multi-layer foil cushions, rather
than as a single-layer membrane, to enhance solar and thermal insulation [23].
7.2 Structures:
7.2.1 Development of Textile Structures in the 20th Century:
The development of modern textile structures began in the 1950s, with the work of the German architect
Frei Otto, and in conjunction with the ongoing development of cable net structures. Later, Horst Berger
progressed this work in the 1970s and 80s, while the work of Walter Bird on pneumatic structures and
Richard Buckminster-Fuller's work on tensegrity structures contributed to the birth and development of
contemporary textile structures [23].
Early designs by Frei Otto expressed modernity, lightness, and aesthetic attractiveness by using organic
free shaped tented forms that also offered sustainability and flexibility; further, they offered savings on
costs, time of installation, and ease of dismantling. These expressed the potential of textile architecture
to exceed the limitations of conventional structures. The work of Horst Berger went a step further,
incorporating local culture as well [6].
7.2.2 Types of textile structures:
7.2.2.1 Tensile cable net structures:
These tensile structures consist of a network of interlaced or interconnected cables, with a transparent
material cover acting as a secondary element [24] (Figure 13).
7.2.2.2 Tensile/tensioned membrane structures (Fabric membranes):
This type of structure developed from cable net structures, having a tensioned membrane as a structural
element to undertake the functions of loadbearing and covering, in addition to the standard supportive
elements [24] (Figure 14).
7.2.2.3 Pneumatic structures (Air-structures):
These structures are completely dependent on air, which is used to inflate the flexible membrane and
to balance the whole structure, in addition to the anchoring elements [3] (Figure 15).
Air-supported structures:
These have a single-wall or balloon-like structure filled with air maintained at a pressure slightly above
atmospheric pressure using air blowers [26] (Figure 16).
Air-inflated structures (Inflatable Structures):
These have double-wall (double-layer) structures where the skin is shaped into tubular or cellular forms
before being pressurised using air to create structural stiffness; the usable space is thus hollow rather
than pressurised [26] (Figure 17).
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Figure 13. Tensile cable net structures
a- Raleigh Arena or Dorton Livestock Arena, USA, 1952 [18].
b- German Pavilion, Montreal Expo 6, 1967 (cable net outer layer- covering a PVC-coated polyester fabric-
inner layer-) [18].
c- Munich Olympic Stadium roof, 1972 (cable net covered with acrylic panels) [18].
d- Millennium Dome, UK, 1999 (PTFE-coated glass fibres, supported by a cable net) [2].
Figure 14. Tensile/tensioned membrane structures
a- Music Pavilion, Kassel, Germany, 1955 (cotton fabric membrane) [10] [12].
b- Dance Pavilion at "Cologne Federal Garden Exhibition", Germany, 1957 (cotton canvas and polyester
fabrics) [12].
c-Jeddeh Hajj Terminal, KSA, 1981 (PTFE-coated fiberglass fabric) [23].
d- Denver International Airport roof, USA, 1995 (Teflon-coated glass fibre membrane) [6].
Pneumatic structures Figure 15.
a- Air-supported Structures [25]. b- Inflatable Structures [25].
Figure 16. Air-supported Structures
a- Radome enclosure, USA, 1948 (urethane-coated polyester fabric) [3].
b- Pool Enclosure, USA, 1957 [10].
(a )
(b )
(c )
(d )
(a )
(b )
(a )
(b )
(c )
(d )
(a )
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Figure 17. Inflatable Structures
a- Temporary inflated structures of "Osaka Expo 70", Japan, 1970 [27].
b- Tokyo Big-Egg Dome, Japan, 1988 (supported with cable system) [27].
Nimes Roman Arena, France, 1989 [27]. c- Temporary roof of
Since the middle of the 1970s and ’80s, textile structures have developed rapidly, and these now include
permanent installations that meet both the functional and aesthetic needs of a wide range of different
purposes [28]. In the late 1990s, textile structures were also attached to facades to act as envelopes, often
to provide natural lighting for interior spaces (Figure 18) [12]. Later, this technique was further
developed and used with a range of different projects such as malls, libraries…etc. [28].
Figure 18. British pavilion, Expo92, Seville, Spain, 1992 [12].
7.3 Basic shapes and forms:
Three-dimensional tensile structures typically form doubly curved shapes that are either anticlastic
(saddle-shaped) or synclastic (dome-shaped) (Figure 19a). They also can be designed to take on various
free-form designs, such as hyper, conical, weave, arch form, and cushion/pneumatic variants [29]
(Figure 19b).
Figure 19. Basic shapes and forms
a- Double curvature in tensile structures [29]. b- Basic forms of tensile membrane structures [29].
7.4. Form Finding Development:
Many early examples of modern tensile structures were designed based on studying the characteristics
of soap bubble surfaces as applied on small physical models, and Lycra textile physical models used to
calculate the resulting structure's ability to bear the imposed loads and likely weather conditions (rain,
snow, wind, etc.) [22] (Figure 19).These models increased the possibility of finding and developing new
forms.
Alongside the use of soap bubble models, Frei Otto was really inspired by nature, and sought to mimic
biological structures in terms of both form and function (biomimicry), inspiring forms based on aquatic
microbiological organisms (planktons) and studying the principles of natural structures such as
a) )
b) )
(a )
(b )
(c )
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spiderwebs, plants, vertebrates, etc. He also applied these principles to textile architecture; hence,
produced more innovative forms supported by cable nets, tensioned membranes, and pneumatic
structures [31].
During the 1970s, the form finding process was developed by using numerical methods (also known as
digital methods or computational methods) such as the force density method (FDM) and dynamic
relaxation (DR). The Munich Olympic Stadium was the first major project designed using this method
[18] (Figure 20).
Figure 20. Form Finding Development.
a- Soap films and Lycra textile physical models [30].
b- Form finding process of Munich Olympic Stadium's cable net roof [30].
8. Textile Architecture in the 21st Century:
Several technological developments have emerged during the last two decades.
8.1 Recent Contemporary Technological Developments:
According to the influences of the pioneers of lightweight structures in the mid-20th century, many
current developments that focused on social needs, cultural contexts and design methods, encouraged
architects and designers to develop new forms. The second half of the 20th century and the beginning of
the 21st century witnessed enormous incremental use of textile architecture, which necessitated the need
to make a fundamental change in conceptual design thinking and in the perception and realisation of
construction performance and behaviour in terms of load distribution and transfer [32].
Hence, this era has witnessed a wide range of development at multiple levels, including the widespread
use of computers and computational programs (CAD) and developments in the manufacture of
contemporary structures, as well as developments in material techniques and technology.
8.1.1 Developments using computers and computational programs:
Alongside the use of computational programs to calculate the forms and patterns of textile structures
based on using equilibrium equations to determine the tensional forces and loads and other forces
imposed upon the structures, developments in computer technology and computational programs
(CAD/CAM) such as Testa Architecture’s Weaver, Tensys’ inTENS, Weaver, Rhinoceros, CATIA, and
Maya, have contributed to progress in tensile fabric and pneumatic structures. These programs have
extended the possibilities of getting more developing complex forms inspired by nature, minimising
implementation time and improving both quality and performance. Such techniques have now been used
to produce several famous project designs including the Olympic Watercube in Beijing, China, 2008
(Figure 21a) and the Cutty Sark in London, UK, 2006 (Figure 21b), which were both designed by
Nicholas Grimshaw [33].
a) )
b) )
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Theorists and designers such as Lars Spuybroek, with the aid of sophisticated computer programs, have
also tried to imitate and simulate physical textile principles and techniques (weaving, knitting, braiding,
etc) into architecture; thus, producing complicated mega scale textile-like forms or structures
(megatextiles). This concept, known as "textile tectonics", was adopted by the proposed design for the
renovation of the Magasins Generaux existing building in Paris, France, 2004 [33] (Figure 20c).
Figure 21. Developments using computers and computational programs
a- Olympic Watercube, China, 2008 [33]. b- Cutty Sark, 2006, UK, 2006 [33].
c- Design proposal for renovating the Magasins Generaux building, France, 2004 [33].
8.1.2 Developments in manufacturing contemporary structures:
Research studies at Stuttgart University have led a team to design innovative lightweight textile
structures by using the unique characteristics of composite materials such as fibre reinforced polymers
(FRP), including carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRP), and glass fibre reinforced polymers (GFRP).
The principle underlying these structures is the mimicry of biological fibre systems, through the creation
of a series of research pavilions that have focused on the following factors [34] [35]:
The potential of modern designs: Studying the properties and characteristics of living organisms
(biological structures), such as the chemical structure of the chitin layer that covers beetles,
allowing such concepts to be translated into architecture.
Biomimicry: Studying the properties of natural polymer composites of many organisms, such
as spider webs, the silk cocoons of some insect larvae, protective beetle shells, collagen in
animals, and cellulose in plants, allowing these principles to be applied to create light, strong,
and sturdy structures.
Computational simulations: Using advanced computational modelling programs.
Robotic fabrication processes: Using robots that are connected to computers to fabricate
structures by spinning and winding (weaving) carbon and glass fibres together to shape final
products as single cells or as whole objects, unlike traditional and technical weaving techniques;
thus, creating and producing distinctive free-form structures.
Prominent projects designed using these principles are shown in Figure 22.
(a )
(c )
(b )
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Figure 22. Developments of manufacturing contemporary structures
(University of Stuttgart projects that mimic nature)
a- ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2012, (black carbon fibres are woven with transparent glass fibres so the
structure mimics a spider's legs and webs) [34].
b- ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2015, (an outer layer of pneumatic ETFE film, supported by an inner layer
of carbon fibres to mimic the biological systems of water spiders) [34].
c- ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion 2017, (featuring a long cantilever in multi-layer of carbon and glass fibres
reinforcing polymers that mimic a larva’s silk cocoon) [35].
8.1.3 Developments in material technology:
Alongside the use of polymeric materials, represented by textile membranes and coatings, as an
economic and rapid architectural solution, new materials such as smart textiles began to emerge at the
beginning of the first decade of the 21st century, offering new reactive and adaptive construction
materials [10], chromic materials, phase change materials (PCM), conductive optical fibres, and shape
memory materials (SMM), which all contribute to the current development of textile architecture by
allowing the creation of smarter, more flexible and durable building structures, with aesthetic
architectural forms that are suitable for large open spaces yet allow savings in costs and energy [12].
Prominent examples of modern innovations using smart textile materials are shown in Figure 23.
Figure 23. Developments of material technology
a- Allianz Arena, Germany, 2005, (LED lights are integrated into ETFE foil cushions, controlled by a digital
system that adapts and changes the lights colour according to activities held inside the stadium) [10].
b- Future Smart Tent proposal, Canada, 2013, (An adaptive eco refugee shelters, each tent has a tank to
collect rain water, even solar cells are embodied into the tent's fabric to generate electricity and heat) [36].
c- King Fahad National Library, Saudi Arabia, 2014, (The façade's membrane controls sun's incidence and
solar transmittance into the building and works as a sunshade system) [10].
(a )
(b )
(c )
(a )
(b )
(c )
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8.1.4 Recent innovative techniques in membrane technology:
Recent research and developments have led to many innovations in textile architecture:
8.1.4.1 Integrated flexible photovoltaics:
Flexible photovoltaics can now be integrated into PTFE, ETFE film/foil cushions, and HDPE
membranes to provide shade and electricity [37] (Figure 24a).
8.1.4.2 Translucent thermal insulation:
This allows integration and filling with translucent silica-aerogel among multi-layered membranes
[39] (Figure 24b).
8.1.4.3 Membranes as a second façade:
Integrating membranes into façades as second skin provides light and natural ventilation and reduces
energy consumption [37] (Figure 24c).
8.1.4.4 Standardised/modular membrane elements:
Standardised membrane elements with different sizes and areas can be used to replace glass to reduce
costs [39] (Figure 24d).
8.1.4.5 Functional coatings:
Functional coatings or so called ''selective coatings'' such as low-E coatings can be applied to
membranes, to transmit light while absorbing UV and IR and reducing CO2 emissions to less than
40% [37][39] (Figure 24e). Even Nano coatings can be used as topcoats, which are applied to the outer
layers of the membrane to keep the surface clean, with a self-cleaning property, such as titanium
dioxide (TiO2) coatings and photocatalytic materials [40] [41] (Figure 23f).
8.1.4.6 Adaptation to surrounding environment and urban context:
Kinetic textile shading devices (roofs or facades) can be used as a tool to adapt to environmental
changes, changing form in response to the climatic changes. Other adaptations to urban context include
amendments to shape, scale, materials, and patterns that reflect the surrounding context [41] (Figure
24g).
8.1.4.7 Light and solar control techniques:
These systems include digital techniques and changes in air-pressure in pneumatic membranes, printed
pattern techniques, and adding colour pigments to membranes [42] (Figure 24h).
8.1.4.8 Smart wrap:
This technique offers a revolutionary development in textile structure industry based on using a single-
layered film or a two layered coating system made of PET printed with integrated smart organic LEDs
and organic PV systems with phase-change properties as a building envelope, providing transparency,
flexibility, thermal insulation, and heat storage [43] (Figure 24i).
8.1.4.9 High clarity ECTFE film/ foil:
ECTFE (Ethylene Chloro TriFluoroEthylene), is a thermoplastic fluoropolymer, also known as ''Halar®
High Clarity ECTFE films ''. It is relatively a new product in the architectural industry and a highly
transparent film used for building textile structures. It has similar properties to ETFE with extra clarity,
solar transmittance (transparency), thickness and printability [40] (Figure 24j).
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Figure 24. Recent Innovative techniques in membrane technology
a- Pure Tension Pavilion, Italy, 2013, (PV integrated into HDPE membrane) [38].
b- Solar Decathlon, UAS, 2007, (ETFE panels filled with translucent aerogel) [39].
c- Centre for Gerontology, Germany, 2004, (ETFE as a second envelope).
d- Bergwacht Bayern, Germany, 2008 [39].
e- Dolce Vita Tejo mall, Portugal, 2009, (integrating low-E-coating into ETFE cushions) [37][39].
f- Chapel garden, permanent membrane structure, with TiO2 and photocatalytic, self-cleaning membrane skin,
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Osaka, Japan (2001) [41].
g- Kinetic PTFE textile shading umbrellas at Mesjid Nabawi, KSA, 1992, 2012 [42].
h- Cyclebowl, Germany, 2000, adaptive control (opening-closing) of internal pressurised ETFE cushions [43].
i- Temporary structure made of PET-film, Cooper Hewitt Museum, USA [41].
j- Halar® High Clarity ECTFE film with outstanding transparency and printability [44].
9. Conclusions:
Textile architecture is often considered a new trend, being used currently to construct multiple
efficient and aesthetic forms and structures. However, it has been used since ancient times,
stretching up today. Nevertheless, new technological developments have been introduced and
integrated into modern textile architecture that have led to an increase in its usefulness and
acceptability due to the ability to build more sustainable textile structures with unique
characteristics such as lightness, rapid installation and dismantling, and economical issues in
terms of savings in costs, time, energy and materials, as well as facilitating the use of eco-
friendly materials with less impact on the environment, compared to traditional materials.
In ancient periods, tents came in many different forms (dome, conical, cylindrical and semi-
vault), though these were generally characterised by simple wooden or animal-bone structures
covered with tree bark or animal skins to create temporary, portable shelters that provided
protection against harsh environmental conditions such as rain, snow, wind, and sunlight.
Textile structure techniques during the classical periods were first developed to allow bigger,
large scale and more complicated temporary structures, ranging from retractable velaria that
covered amphitheatres to military tents, characterised by their sloped roofs.
Ottoman tents were used for both military and civic purposes. The imperial tents were splendid
and luxurious, being full of gilded ornaments to represent the power, prosperity, and wealth of
the Ottoman Empire.
In parallel with the textile technology of the Ottoman Empire, Europeans during the Renaissance
developed Royal tents, which were relatively similar to the Imperial tents of the Ottoman
Sultans in terms of their ornamental and decorative appearance and intimations of luxury and
prosperity, as well as their waterproof characteristics.
(a )
(b )
(c )
(e )
(f )
(g )
(h )
(i )
(d )
(j )
(ETFE )
(ECTFE )
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In the Industrial revolution, textile structures became more complex, being wider, stronger, and
built with steel frames covered with waterproof mechanical woven linen or hemp canvas. Tents
were created for specific purposes, such as entertainment (circus activities), mobile hospitals,
and insulation functions. Circus tents can be considered as developed forms of King Henry's
VIII tent from The Field of Cloth of Gold, which offered a prototype for the mobile circus tents
of the 19th century, and thus for many of today's entertainment buildings.
Textile architecture in the 20th century witnessed a series of revolutionary technological
developments, particularly with regard to materials, including new synthetic fibres, polymeric
membranes and coatings; structural, constructional, and form technologies also developed to
produce larger, more complex structures (small, medium and large spans) in both tensioned and
pneumatic forms. These temporary and permanent textile structures had forms designed in free
organic shapes imitating nature and native cultural contexts. Form finding techniques developed
by using soap film and Lycra physical models in the 1950s gave way to digital and
computational methods using electronic computers, with functional aspects and new functions
emerging to satisfy the needs of new activities, such as exhibitions, pavilions, events, covering
sport stadiums, and covering building facades to provide shading with an acceptable
appearance.
Alongside the developments in commonly used membranes (PVC, PTFE and ETFE) in the 20th
century, textile architecture in the 21th century has witnessed further developments in
architectural textile membrane technologies, and new technological developments that offer
innovative solutions to modern issues, including integrating and merging new material and
industrial techniques to create interactive, responsive, digitally controlled smart textile
architecture that meets human needs and saves energy. This process has benefited from recent
computer technology advances in terms of both computational design and modelling and robotic
fabrication, which offers outstanding aesthetic results.
As a result of the enormous technological developments that textile architecture has undergone
over time, the desire to use and build textile structures that respond to environmental, economic
and social needs is currently increasing.
Such techniques are both suitable and appropriate for hot humid and hot arid regions,
particularly with regard to stabilising whole structures and the use of materials such as
PVC/polyester, PTFE/glass, PTFE/silicone, ePTFE (Tenara®), HDPE, PVDF and ETFE. The
latter is the best among all, which can resist both heat and intense UV light, as well as being
lightweight, (90-95) % translucent, (100) % recyclable, relatively fire resistant, and relatively
cheap as compared to glass panels. ETFE can also be used as a single layered-membrane or as
a multiple-layered membrane to provide light or enhance shading and heat insulation.
Due to the current severe global situation with regard to the crises, wars, natural disasters such
as the Covid-19 pandemic, floods, and explosions that have caused an excess of immigrants and
war refugees, architects, designers, and urban designers must seek to benefit from the wide
range of textile architecture qualities and potentials. This could help with the development of
urban sites, whether by building structures that cover cities' urban spaces or by creating
lightweight, economic, and emergent structural solutions to rapidly house refugees and
homeless citizens in the damaged countries caused by military operations (wars), poverty,
explosions or floods. These techniques can also be used for building temporary emergency
hospitals, or to provide temporary dwellings for immigrants.
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... All of the above-mentioned recent innovative techniques are supported by high technology concepts using developed lighter, sophisticated materials and new equipment that will help to achieve and improve technology; thereafter to solve the needs for future generations and to maintain sustainable development over its social, economic and environmental aspects [46,47]. ...
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