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Small scale, big ideas

August 5th, 2016 / By: / My Take

The Minnesota Vikings football team now has a new $1 billion stadium that boasts the largest transparent ethylene-tetraflouroethylene (ETFE) roof in the nation. This relatively new structural fabric doesn’t degrade under UV light, atmospheric pollution or extreme temperatures. It’s expected to last as long as 50 years with minimal maintenance.

This is a more sophisticated fabric than the air-supported fiberglass fabric roof that graced its predecessor, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. That structure got a bad rap, and it shouldn’t have. In 2010, heavy, wet snow and strong winds caused enormous tears in the fabric dome and snow came tumbling down onto the field below. Repeatedly, news stories discussed the dome’s “collapse,” and it started bugging me. That dome did not, precisely, “collapse.” It deflated after it tore. But the fabric had performed even better than anticipated, lasting far beyond its 20-year warranty.

These are fabric structures on a grand scale, but developments in these are worth a look when considering smaller structures, too. Our new feature, “Down to earth; up in the air,” written by fabric structure expert Bruce Wright, takes a look at the growth of small-scale fabric structures—due, in part, to new materials that make them ever-more practical. The versatility available with fabric (and if I’ve said that once, I’ve said it a hundred times) offers so many opportunities for new uses that are functional or simply aesthetic, traditional or cutting edge—and economical.

Our features this month are a two-part look at smaller structures: the first part describes popular types, and the second feature will delve into more detail on the materials used. I invite you to be inspired. Let your creative brain wander for a bit and think about how today’s grand architectural fabrics could be used or adapted for smaller-scale applications. The fabrics themselves and the many ways they can function are inspirational, but there’s more to the story. With the incorporation of photovoltaics, e-textiles and “smart” technology, functionality jumps to a whole new level.

But smart technology is just one of the options. Remember when polyethylene closed-cell foam was strictly an industrial product? Then along came floating water mats. Given the popularity of this product, I’d say the small-size and simple use of this material is quite a success story. Should you have the opportunity to stretch out on a Lilly Pad (or similar product) in a pool or lake this weekend, I hope it prompts you to think about the amazing materials and constructions that incorporate fabric in a new, and possibly very profitable, way.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.