Recreating the fabric of architecture

Niki May Young
Wednesday 19 Nov 2008

Fabric Formwork gives concrete a flexible appearance, RIBA reward research

At the RIBA President’s Awards for Research 2008 on 3rd December, Remo Pedreschi of Edinburgh University and Alan Chandler from the University of East London will be presented with the award for University-located Research for their work on Fabric Formwork. In collaboration with the Centre for Architectural and Structural Technology at the University of Manitoba, they are looking to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with concrete.

Fabric formwork provides the potential to produce forms that are both structurally efficient and architecturally compelling in a relatively inexpensive and practical manner. By careful shaping of the fabric it is possible to produce complex shapes that would otherwise be too costly to create using traditional formwork.

Chandler describes the work as “a research programme that seeks to establish techniques that address complex issues of technical production, risk management and advanced passive energy control, but also accept the legitimate responsibility to be comprehensible and relevant to everyday construction and everyday use. The use of fluid responsive formwork is a technique of constructing which allows the behaviour of material to engage with and influence the building process itself.”

During the research, some outcomes were surprising as different fabrics used produce varying textures and finishes on the concrete, some rough, some smooth and everything in-between. Others leave patterns on the concrete that can be reproduced time and time again. The versatility of this formwork is staggering.

Pedreschi cites that “Physically and chemically the concrete studied in this work is almost identical to conventional concrete. Some fabrics with loosely woven yarns would leave traces on the concrete. Some dyed fabrics would leave colour traces on the concrete. Non-woven fabrics such as felts do not work so well and can be difficult to strip.”

Fabric Formwork also gives a comparatively inexpensive and better quality of concrete produced as Pedreschi explains, “traditional formwork, using wood or metal to contain the concrete is more expensive as the structure in essence has to be made twice, and once the concrete has set the formwork is thrown away. Whereas fabric formwork can be re-used and as the fabric is permeable any excess water seeps out thus producing better, stronger concrete” resulting in practical yet produce beautiful designs which are sustainable in the long run.

In comparison with other methods of sculpture which Chandler says, “have to be pre-ordained and thought out beforehand, Fabric Formwork gives an adaptability and beauty, which coupled with a fabric that is strong and flexible it does all the work for you.”

In having come to a set of restraints Chandler is starting to work with London College of Fashion to look at “smart fabrics” that are woven according to specifications. These would combine rigid and flexible parts to allow for tailoring of the fabric to be responsive to your design desires.

Hoping the award can raise awareness of Fabric formwork, Chandler remark’s of the research, “it is about developing it and sharing it.” Concluding he said that he and Pedreschi are, “setting out a different agenda for architectural research, as most papers that win awards are history books, whereas we explored architecture to open minds and encourage research.”

With the RIBA award under their belt Remo Pedreschi and Alan Chandler will be looking to develop the concept and technology with commercial partners, developing ways to create individual fabric manipulations to meet the needs of their clients.

David Schiavone

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