Architectural textilesThere is some confusion about the meaning of ‘textile’. It is sometimes thought to be a separate class of material whereas in fact textiles are the result of a processing technique that can be applied to many materials. For example, there are textiles made of wood (paper fibres) and metal. Given that ‘textile’ is the most frequently used search term at www.materialexplorer.com it is time to take a closer look at this fascinating subject. To begin with, just what is meant by texti
In the most literal sense, ‘textile’, which is derived from the Latin word texere, meaning ‘to weave’, refers to ‘everything that is woven’. In reality, textile also embraces materials that are pressed, knitted, crocheted, knotted or spun. Sometimes even paper or foil are classified with textile.
Vegetable and animal fibres have been used since time immemorial for clothing and shelter. Fibres derived from plants include flax, cotton, sisal, raffia (from the leaves of a species of palm tree), jute, ramie (from a type of nettle), manila (from the leaves of a type of banana). Among the best-known animal fibres are wool and silk.
Since the Second World War, there has been an explosion in the development of semi-synthetics like viscose and rayon, and synthetics like acrylic (polyacrylonitrile), lurex (metallized polyester fibre), lycra, nylon polyamide, polyester fibres like fleece, polyethylene and polypropylene for carpet and rope, aramids (Nomex, Twaron, Kevlar) and polyethylene (Dyneema). In addition, various non-organics like carbon fibres, glass fibres and metal yarns can also be woven into textiles.
A raw material can also be turned into whole cloth without being woven. This is the most basic form of textile and felt and paper are prime examples of such one-step bonding methods. Some of the methods used to produce modern non-woven textiles are needlepunching, water jets and adhesive bonding using a polymer.
Often the raw ingredient is spun, whereby individual fibres are converted into a single thread which can then be used for knitting (often used where elasticity is required), crocheting, spool knitting, knotting or netting, braiding and macramé. Several threads can be used for weaving, bobbin lace, wrapping, twining and twisting. Lengths of textile can be sewn, stitched, embroidered, pleated and plaited. Many of these techniques are very old but when combined with new technology the sky’s the limit when it comes to textile.
The diversity of contemporary textile, whether it be the raw material or the fibres or the technical process, is enormous. In recent years, interest in the functional properties of textile has burgeoned thanks to developments in two areas: smart textiles and nanotechnology. In addition, it is possible to give textiles completely new functional properties by adding electronic components. From musical equipment and telephones in clothing, to LED lighting in facade fabrics by GKD Metal Fabrics, textiles are especially suited to the integration of functional properties.
Architecture can probably learn a few things from the clothing industry. For example, the addition of actuators to textile makes it possible to adjust the insulating properties of the garment to personal preferences, climatological conditions and the wearer’s level of activity. Electroactive polymers (EAPs), which play an important role in this functionality, provide a link with dynamic and smart textiles.
A stroke of magic would seem to have been involved in the development of ‘intelligent textiles’ which change in response to environmental factors like light, temperature, pressure or rubbing. Fabrics switch from smooth to crumpled, roll up or shrink in places. Some textiles become waterproof when they come into contact with moisture, such as cotton with an admixture of polyalcohol, which is used for tents. Then there are textiles interwoven with ceramic fibres that are capable of blocking radiation; and textiles sputter-coated with metal which form a Faraday Cage that cannot be penetrated by electromagnetic radiation and radio signals. Installed behind wallpaper, copper or aluminium sputtered textile renders the room impervious to such radiation. Examples abound: metal textiles in which the insulating value depends on the difference in temperature between the inside and outside of the material, textiles that can absorb, store and release heat in response to body temperature (e.g. Outlast®), textiles that change colour in response to fluctuations in UV radiation or temperature, phosphorescing textiles that can absorb light and then slowly release it when darkness falls, textiles that can absorb or eliminate smells, and deliver medicines or cosmetics to the body.
One limitation of these ‘smart’ additions to textiles is that only a very small amount can be added without adversely affecting the material’s mechanical properties. Another possible limitation is the extent to which these active substances are able to withstand the high temperatures and mechanical forces employed in the spinning process.
A second important development is that of nanotechnology which employs extremely tiny particles measuring 1 to 100 nanometres, or extremely thin coatings. Using this technique new functional properties can be added to the base fibres or applied at a later stage to the textile. Possible applications include textiles with self-cleaning properties or with better electrical conductance, textiles that are more wear-, light-, and UV-resistant and textiles in which the absorbency is regulated.
Another development at the microscopic end of the scale are microfibres. These are fibres weighing less than 1 dtex (1 g/10 000 m) which, thanks to their minimal diameter, have a large specific surface per unit of weight, thereby allowing air and water impermeability to be coupled with water vapour permeability and pliability.
Another advanced material is fireproof ceramic textile. The fibres are produced by melting china clay (kaolin) or a combination of aluminium oxide and silica at about 2000 °C. The product of this process is then blown or spun into fibres. Ceramic fibres are good heat conductors and can stand higher temperatures than glass. Gwendolyn Floyd’s white Ceramic Table Cloth is scarcely distinguishable from an ordinary cotton or linen tablecloth. The 300 C overprint indicates that it is all right to put hot pots and pans on the cloth. A more extreme example is that of the Soft Stove, an oven made of ceramic textile designed by Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe.
Freedom of Creation is an Amsterdam-based design agency run by Janne Kyttänen and Jiri Evenhuis. They use rapid prototyping to make a kind of three-dimensional print. Their ‘laser sintered dress’ was made by building up fine layers of polyamide powder and hardening it using laser beams.
Old cardboard boxes were used to create Cardboard Covering. Diane Steveerlynck crumpled the cardboard by hand until it became pliable enough to turn into a soft rug which she lined with linen. Imprints such as THIS SIDE UP function as decoration.
Advanced materials or processes originally developed for space travel, military purposes or model building, offer designers a wide range of new applications. The phenomenon of technology transfer, whereby materials and techniques developed for a specific purpose are suddenly ‘discovered’ and applied to a completely different sector, has undoubtedly been boosted by the Internet. In the field of textiles, the best source of inspiration for technology transfer is the Techtextil in Frankfurt, one of the biggest trade fairs for technical textiles. Techtextil is organized around categories (e.g. Medtech, Hometech, Clothtech, Buildtech) and is a playground for designers, including architects who will find a textile for just about every application – facades, ceilings, safety barriers, screens, carpets, roofing, construction and furniture – employed either in a flexible state or as reinforcement in a hardened construction.