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Textile Architecture

Textile Architecture revolution in the construction industry

From huts to tensile structures: textile architecture is captivating designers for compositional flexibility and structural potential.

Textile architecture represents an evolving discipline gaining increasing relevance in contemporary construction. This architectural form distinguishes itself by creatively employing fabrics and advanced textile materials for designing and constructing innovative, astonishing architectural structures.

If you’re intrigued by this designing method but concerned about its management complexities, a BIM architectural design software could be immensely helpful. This tool allows you to model in 3D the structure, insert materials, visualize it realistically, and manage it efficiently throughout its lifecycle. Learn more!

What is Textile Architecture?

Textile architecture is an innovative discipline integrating advanced textiles and textile materials within the field of architecture. The result includes welded or sewn structures crafted with textile-based materials and/or thin films.

This form of architecture stands out for its creative use of fabrics in combination with advanced technologies and innovative solutions that blend functionality, aesthetics, and sustainability. It creates dynamic, flexible, adaptable spaces suitable for both temporary and permanent projects.

These structures resist “by form,” i.e., through their double-curved geometry allowing them to cover large spans with minimal support. In traditional structures, static stability relies on component and material resistance to tension, compression, flexion, and shear. In textile architecture, however, balance and resistance to external loads are achieved solely through tension applied during installation.

Tensile structures and tent structures exemplify the application of textile architecture in construction:

  • Tensile structures stand out for using cables, tension rods, and flexible beams combined with taut fabrics to create coverings exploiting surface tension to maintain the desired shape. These structures offer open, spacious areas without the need for massive internal supports, providing a sense of lightness and expansiveness. Textile materials used for tensile structures must possess strength and durability, allowing for coverings in stadiums, exhibition areas, parks, or public spaces;
  • Tent structures, on the other hand, feature flexible coverings that can be temporary or permanent. These structures easily adapt to various shapes and sizes, offering versatile solutions for temporary events like fairs, concerts, or festivals. Their flexibility allows for modifying and adapting spaces as per immediate needs, offering a dynamic alternative to traditional constructions.

This technology can produce fixed coverings, temporary structures (seasonal or event-based), and textile facades. Both these structure types represent excellent examples of how textile architecture can create innovative, functional, aesthetically appealing architectural environments, while offering sustainable and adaptable solutions seamlessly integrating into modern architecture.

Advantages and Disadvantages in Textile Architecture Design

Several advantages and disadvantages characterize this design solution. Here are some:

  • Advantages
    • Lightweight
    • Response to heavy loads and seismic activity
    • Speed and ease of installation
    • Versatility of spaces
    • Creativity in achievable forms at relatively low cost
  • Disadvantages
    • High thermal dispersion
    • Low acoustic performance due to lightweight materials unable to thermally and acoustically insulate spaces.
Rendering of a tensile structure created through integration between Edificius and Rhino/Grasshopper

Rendering of a tensile structure created through integration between Edificius and Rhino/Grasshopper

Historical Roots of Textile Architecture

While the use of fabrics in architecture dates back to ancient times, with notable examples like nomadic tent constructions or sails on ancient vessels, the modern application of textile materials in architecture results from technological innovations, material developments, and new architectural visions.

As early as the mid-19th century, architect and critic Gottfried Semper identified weaving and textile techniques as the origin of architectural construction. Not in rigid structures and trilitic systems but in the covering formed by elements transformed into a continuous surface through activities such as tying, sewing, and weaving.

The constructive importance of textile architecture found symbolic representation in the Caribbean hut exhibited in 1851 under the arches of London’s Crystal Palace during the first major world exposition. This event contributed to the formulation of Semper’s concept of original habitation, where constituent elements like the hearth, roof, enclosure, and earthwork become the foundation of all architecture. Textile art, one of the four forms of constructive acts according to Semper, along with ceramic art, tectonics, and stereotomy or wall art, no longer coincides with the supporting structure but conceals it, defining the shape, quality, and character of space. Given the antiquity of textile art, its technical and expressive capabilities have been extensively explored and enriched over the centuries.

Today, designing through fabric means rediscovering the connections between humans, their creations, and architecture. This implies rediscovering the origins of the most ancestral architecture and valuing the contemporary by addressing crucial challenges, including environmental ones.

Managing a Textile Architecture Project

Innovative and unconventional designing always poses the greatest challenge for designers. Experimenting with new solutions, studying them in detail, often risking failure in the endeavor. To avoid these problems, it’s advisable to rely on BIM software support. This tool guides you in architectural, structural, and systems design, enabling control and verification of the final result during the preliminary design phase. Here are all the advantages:

  • 3D modeling and design: BIM software enables detailed modeling of the architectural structure and integration of textile elements into the model. This includes creating 3D models accurately showcasing how textile materials will be integrated within the structure. Detailed visualization of the arrangement, tension, and form of fabrics helps architects design and optimize the final appearance of the textile structure. To model complex parametric shapes, BIM software leverages integration with specific parametric modelers;
  • Simulations and analyses: BIM software allows conducting advanced analyses and simulations on structural and energy behavior of the structure. For instance, evaluating the resistance of structural elements using structural calculation software or assessing winter and summer energy behavior with dynamic energy simulation software. It’s also possible to evaluate the durability of the structure or textile parts based on climatic conditions or material conservation status using maintenance software;
  • Coordination and project management: A BIM management platform facilitates collaboration and management of multidisciplinary projects. In the case of textile architecture, it often involves various stakeholders, such as textile designers, structural engineers, and architects. BIM software allows them to work together in a centralized environment, sharing real-time information and reducing communication discrepancies or errors;
  • Documentation and construction plans: BIM software generates technical documents and detailed plans for creating the textile structure. These documents contain essential information for installing fabrics and support structures, simplifying the on-site implementation process;
  • Project lifecycle management: BIM software tracks the project’s lifecycle, keeping track of changes, revisions, and maintenance over time. This is crucial for textile structures, as they may require periodic maintenance and material replacement.
Roofing of a bus terminal created with Rhino/Grasshopper, the integrated algorithmic modeler in Edificius

Roofing of a bus terminal created with Rhino/Grasshopper, the integrated algorithmic modeler in Edificius

Despite the numerous advantages, textile architecture still faces many challenges. Among these, the constant need to develop ever-higher performance, durable materials, and solutions for maintenance and cleaning of these materials over time.