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Perspectives: Megatrend urbanisation

The Textile City

Whether as soundproofing, indirect lighting or to clean the air, technical textiles have become an integral part of urban life.

As hubs of productivity, communication and innovation, cities are the driving force behind social and technical trends and entice people with promises of variety, entertainment and jobs. Since 2008, for the first time, more than half the world’s population has been living in urbanised areas. The United Nations predict that this figure will reach 70 percent by 2050. This is a turning point in the history of humankind and a rapid development that is placing new demands on construction, mobility concepts, food supply, infrastructure and housing.

Technical textiles offer solutions for the various challenges faced by high-density areas. Sometimes more, sometimes less visible, they are making their mark on urban life. Shade technologies protect from UV rays on playgrounds, silent asphalt reduces noise pollution on roads and textile filter technologies make it possible to filter recyclable materials from waste water and feed them back into cycles. “It’s hard to imagine what urban life without textiles would be like for people. Not only because we wear textiles on our bodies and use them to express ourselves as individual personalities. The curtains we pull back each morning are made of textiles, as are the carpets we walk on and car or train seats… and the list goes on,” explains Johannes Diebel, Research Director at textile research network Forschungskuratorium Textil e.V.

New localism: Food from vertical farms

The list of challenges posed by these rapid changes is long. One development that is providing answers to urgent problems is “new localism”, the idea of autonomous metropolises. It is not only gaining relevance in terms of energy production and the handling of raw materials, but also in food production in the form of cultivation within the cities themselves. Whether on flat roofs, balconies or in city gardens – urban gardening is meanwhile firmly established in most of the world’s metropolises. Innovative initiatives and research projects are taking the first steps towards an urban agricultural economy. In particular, the idea of vertical cultivation or even vertical farming could transform the food industry in cities of the future and facilitate access to local and fresh produce. The idea: to grow agricultural plant or animal products all year round within multi-storey buildings, so-called farmscrapers, in urban conurbations. “The key advantage of vertical cultivation is that it significantly reduces energy costs for the transportation from the grower to the consumer,” says Prof. Andrea Ehrmann from the Faculty of Engineering and Mathematics at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. Together with project partner Stickerei Bache GmbH from Rheinberg, Ehrmann and her team are currently researching the development of different textile substrates based on knitted fabrics and nanofleece for growing fruit and vegetable plants on in the future. And this will happen on the smallest of spaces. The research team is developing requirement-specific solutions for each of the different kinds of agricultural plants. A particular focus is on the combination of synthetic polymers with biopolymers like polysaccharides and proteins, which should enable the efficient growth of biomass on textile substrates. Food grown directly on our doorsteps is an idea that should not only appeal to health-conscious city dwellers, especially considering the many other benefits such as the improvement of air quality in cities.

Cleaner air thanks to textile plant walls

Whether Riad (Saudi Arabia), Raipur (India) or Rawalpindi (Pakistan), megacities around the world are struggling with pollution caused by fine particulate matter. In Mexico City, the Via Verde (Green Way) project is taking the vertical plant walls approach: over 1,000 concrete pillars covered in greenery are now lining the busy Periférico highway. The project was initiated in 2016 by architect Fernando Ortiz Monasterio, who specialises in vertical gardens. Specific goals include filtering out more than 27,000 tonnes of harmful gas every year and producing enough oxygen for more than 25,000 inhabitants. But whether these targets can actually be met, remains to be seen: according to an article in the Guardian, the plants they have used won’t be able to reduce air pollution to that extent.
Moss, for example, would be particularly suitable for this project. This is an approach that the German Institutes of Textile and Fiber Research Denkendorf (DITF), together with Ed. Züblin AG and Helix Pflanzen GmbH, is currently pursuing in the form of textile moss walls. The “MoosTex” project takes advantage of the fact that mosses naturally bind and degrade particulate matter over their large surface area. To maximise its potential – the mosses absorb the most fine dust when slightly damp – the project partners have developed an intelligent textile-based module system consisting of an active watering system and a special textile foundation adapted specifically to the moss. Using textile sensor technology, the moss can be monitored, and the individual modules can be controlled to provide the optimum climate.

Lighter and brighter: light-directing textiles

In addition to air quality, light is another important factor that has a significant impact on the quality of life in interior spaces. With their high-rise buildings, rear-facing rooms and subterranean parts of buildings, many parts of cities are lacking in natural light. Another project by the DITF that is dedicated to utilising the available light and the targeted management of artificial light and daylight is light-directing multiaxial fabrics. Innovative new types of pleating, for example, can use sunlight to illuminate the entire interior. Two freely programmable weaving axes enable the new fabric structures. Parameters relevant to light management such as transmission, reflection, absorption, diffusion, glare control, transparency and translucency are set by yarn colour or matting, yarn type, weft density, yarn count and direction of weave, therefore directing light into the textile as required.

Whether to grow fresh produce, purify the air or direct light – technical textiles offer solutions to many of the problems posed by urban living. “The number of textiles we are surrounded by is already high and it’s set to increase even further in the future. After all, technical textiles can take on a variety of different functions,” enthuses Johannes Diebel. “The possibilities are endless.”

With the special “Urban Living – City of the Future” event, Techtextil, in cooperation with “Creative #olland”, the Dutch creative industry, is putting the spotlight on life in the city of the future with its own themed area. Techtextil and Texprocess will be presenting textile examples of use and an accompanying line-up of events will provide additional industry insights.

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