Monday, 10 June 2013

An answer looking for a question

I have been following the rise and rise of applications for ETFE in architecture.  Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)  was originally invented by DuPont in the 1930s as an insulation material for the aeronautics industry. Its use as a building material started during the 1980s when German engineer, Stefan Lehnert, a yachting enthusiast, tried to use ETFE for sails. In that, he failed, but he did develop ETFE-based building materials suitable for roof and cladding solutions.

Based on plastic cushions filled with air, these cladding systems have since pushed the boundaries of architecture in applications such as large greenhouses at the Eden Project, and perhaps most famously the Beijing National Aquatics Center in China, known popularly as the Watercube.

The development of satisfying applications of the technology were, to my mind, sidetracked by the much lionized, but really rather nasty little edifice, Cloud 9’s Media-TIC building in Barcelona, where, in truth, the material is used to substitute glass and other forms of construction which might really have worked just as well or better in the context.

So it was with delight that I came across a different kind of project, that does have that sense of inevitability – that ETFE is the only solution right for the job.  As reported in designboom, Spanish architect Ferran Vizoso recently completed the restoration of the town church in Corbera d’Ebre, near Tarragona, Spain, whose roof structure was entirely non-existent.  To quote:
"When using new technologies and materials to preserve, extend, or otherwise replace existing architecture one is always faced with the question of how invasive the intervention will be. It is of particular interest because there are so many factors apart from the architect's own language that need to be considered: the state of the decrepit structure, the types of contemporary materials used, and the ideas the architect wishes to express with the melding of the two worlds.....As an icon of the town and a relic from the Spanish Civil War, Vizoso aimed to restore the masonry structure to return it to its community, and at the same time preserve its new-found character: an open plan where the sun's rays flood the previously interior space, birds fly across the nave and vegetation subtly creeps in through the windows and over the walls......"
ETFE panels supported on an unobtrusive tubular steel structure create a protective transparent film over the entire ruin.  For a remarkably humble budget, the church has been reinstated as an inhabitable micro-climate suitable for use by the community, and "retains the delicate look and feel of a treasured ruin, history frozen in time".

Read more on designboom at ferran vizoso architecture seals a derelict church in plastic.

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