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Perspectives: Functional textiles

Improved performance and functionality

Acoustically effective, naturally fire-retardant or even self-supporting: textiles for interiors and exteriors impress with improved functionalities.

January 2019

In a recent design talk architect Peter Ippolito mused on the fact that the success of textiles is determined not by their function, but by their decorative value. That said, the sound absorbing effect of textiles currently stands at the forefront of an emerging speciality field. Since time immemorial, the acoustics of a room have been improved by textiles such as carpets, upholstery and curtains. Further improvements may be achieved with acoustically effective fabrics thanks to special weaves, waddings or even complete systems.

Acoustically effective textiles, but also other innovations and products suitable for commercial spaces such as modular carpets, sun-shading systems, innovative wall coverings and of course flame-retarding fabrics for public spaces will be showcased under the heading “Interior. Architecture. Hospitality” at the next edition of Heimtextil (Frankfurt am Main, 8 to 11 January 2019). This will cater specifically for the contract segment with more than 500 exhibitors located throughout the exhibition grounds. As a concentrated format, the special Interior.Architecture.Hospitality Expo will be located in Hall 4.2. Also showing in the same hall will be Trevira, with 22 partner businesses that use the flame-retarding contract yarn Trevira CS. The joint stand Carpet by Heimtex will likewise show in Hall 4.2 with a selection of flooring manufacturers of the Verband der deutschen Heimtextil-Industrie e.V.

How effectively the sound is absorbed is decided by acousticians who test its specific flow resistance and thus ascertain the extent to which the textile reflects or absorbs sound. The sound absorption rating deduced in this way and classified according to the standard DIN EN ISO 11654 yields the sound absorption classes A, B, C, D or E. Values of αw in excess of 0.90 are for example ascribed to sound absorption class A (where values above 1 signify complete sound absorption) and values between 0.15 and 0.25 to sound absorption class E. Markus Overbeck, Marketing Director at Schmitz Textiles, a company devoting more attention to this subject matter with the brand Drapilux (Heimtextil: Hall 8.0, Stand C56), emphasises however that looking exclusively at the level of sound absorption is not necessarily sufficient, because aspects such as the frequency range are also critical for good acoustic qualities and, ultimately, speech intelligibility in a given space.

Flexible layouts
While most seem to have only just discovered this field, one supplier is playing their cards with ease and great competence: Gerriets, based in Umkirch near Freiburg, has been equipping stages for opera houses, theatres and events for more than 50 years. The global player recently manufactured in-house and installed in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie acoustic roller banners that rise up out of the floor. The most recent addition to the company’s range is a curtain for offices which with 5 to 12 layers and a special inlay absorbs up to 26 dB (approximately the same noise level as a ventilator).  This dimout curtain, which Gerriets (Heimtextil: Hall 4.2, Stand E14) can supply with an ingenious automatic rail system, is now even available with a built-in viewing window.

Through this kind of zoning, acoustically efficient curtains fulfil the function of a wall. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich set an example here long ago with the Café Samt & Seide, showcased at the 1927 trade show Die Mode der Dame at the Funkturm Berlin. In this way, differently sized rooms can be created in no time at all with little construction work. In office spaces especially, which are characterised by zones ranging from agility to concentration, people are increasingly making use of the curtain’s function as an element that creates space.

In the field of acoustic textiles, there is currently a push towards transparency: BuzziSpace, one of the leading acoustics specialists as regards design, recently presented the Bracks modular unit system complete with a new acoustic textile curtain by Patricia Urquiola, for Kvadrat. This offers a genuine alternative to the many transparent, enclosed glass cells that now frequently turn up in on-trend coworking spaces. Other manufacturers such as Drapilux, Gerriets or Vescom (Heimtextil: Hall 3.1, Stand B33) also showcase such transparent acoustic shields, featuring among other things integrated tape yarns.

Compact textiles
Equally worthy of attention are felts and nonwovens, which are frequently used as panels or to create entire room sculptures, as shown for example by Cabs Design (Heimtextil: Hall 9.0, Stand C61). The up-and-coming company of Prof. Bernd Benninghoff uses the fibrous composite material Nitona, produced by M&K Filze, for its wall and ceiling components. This is distinguished by its high levels of sound absorption in a wide frequency range, combined with a natural wool felt. Richard Wernekinck also offers wool felt as a sound absorber under his brand Hollandfelt, currently up to a thickness of 10 millimetres and up to 92 per cent absorption (Heimtextil: Hall 4.2, Stand H75). Taking a similar direction is the new project Fibermates by Laura Jungmann, Jonathan Radetz, Martha Schwindling and Elena Tezak. They have joined forces with the company Fiber Engineering, Karlsruhe, to compress fibres gained from plastic waste into mats which can serve as absorbers, seating or room partitions. Taking things a step further is the Danish label Really, cofounded by Kvadrat and the fashion designer Klaus Samsøe, which produces innovative rigid panels made from recycled textile waste mixed with synthetic resin that find use as furniture or interior design elements.

A lot has happened in recent years to ensure that fire retardant textiles made from synthetic fibres and yarns, which comply with the German B1 fire protection standard for public buildings like offices or hospitals, also feel natural and do not have that unpleasant crackly feel that makes one’s hair stand on end. As a result, the range of fabrics suitable for contract textiles has become far more diverse over recent seasons and the special collections have been developed. All this will be evident at the upcoming Heimtextil 2019. “We now have contract textiles that really look like linen or wool”, says textile designer Felix Diener, who develops contract textiles. Those on the lookout for abrasion-, fire- or water-resistant fabrics must not overlook the Trevira CS polyester fibre, in which that the flame retardant is embedded in the molecular structure of the fibre.

“That said”, adds Diener, “contract textiles do not always have to be made from synthetic fibres, as architects invariably think”. The Italia manufacturer Coex for instance has for a few seasons now been showcasing highly flame-retarding cotton, linen and viscose fibres treated with sulphur and phosphorus to remove oxygen and modify the molecular structure. Fabric made from these fibres does not begin to burn, but carbonizes, binds oxygen and thus suffocates the flames. Christian Fischbacher (Heimtextil: Hall 12, Stand A10) is one manufacturer to present the Coex-fibre in his collection Eco FR 2015; other suppliers such as Maasberg or Zimmer + Rohde (Heimtextil: Hall 3.1, Stand D32) also feature it in their collections. We see another interesting alternative in the contract textiles of British manufacturer Camira, which are made from bast fibres like hemp, flax or jute (from old coffee sacks) and are also flame-retarding. And as textile designer Diener notes, “wool also meets the fire safety requirements”.

Great climate
We also see improved performance in outdoor textiles, not least in response to the rise in extreme climatic conditions. In collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the textile weaving and spinning experts Ettlin recently developed a patented weave for sun shades, sails and marquees, which is both breathable and water-resistant. Strong winds make no impression on TransProof, and heat accumulation is avoided. One specialist in outdoor textiles is the French manufacturer Serge Ferrari, who draws his competence from the yachting world. By now Serge Ferrari (Heimtextil: Hall 4.2, Stand X03) is also active in architecture and interior design worldwide, supplying contract textiles for upholstery, sun-protection and outdoor use as well as textiles for facades. Sun-protective textiles especially are becoming increasingly relevant for both indoor and outdoor areas, because they not only regulate temperatures but can also provide protection from rain and wind. Serge Ferrari meets this requirement with his Soltis range, which offers a special model for each specific application. The new Soltis Elite, for instance, is distinguished by its high tensioning force, which means that it does not flutter in the wind.

The strength technical textiles can develop in architecture is shown among other things by the SpacerFabric Pavilion, which began as a student project at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. Here, the students, directed by Professor Claudia Lüling, made modules from a 30mm-thick spacer textile otherwise chiefly used as a padding material in brassieres and assembled them to form a self-supporting dome structure. The pavilions of the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart also demonstrate how textiles can be used as a load-bearing, lightweight building material: inspired by the hardened wing-cases of beetles, the innovative structures are made from robotically wrapped glass and carbon fibres, which will be next on show to an admiring audience at the Bundesgartenschau in Heilbronn.

Orientation is provided by the Interior.Architecture.Hospitality Tours organised by the Association of German Interior Architects/Designers (bdia), World-Architects and others, which start in Hall 4.2 at Stand X 50.


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