Lately, the pictures of Arc de Triomphe have spread like a forest fire on social media. The monument came into the limelight after its covering with fabric was showcased as a temporary installation for sixteen days. The exhibit officially ran from September 18 to October 3, 2021. The installation was done to pay tribute to the late artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The monument was covered in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric and 3000-meter red rope. This installation received mixed reviews from all over the world.

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Wrapped Arc de Triomphe_©Jad Sylla Christo

It is not the first time fabric has been utilized externally. There have been many instances in the past where wrapping and architecture have joined hands. Now, let’s look at some examples:

1. Surrounded Islands, Florida

Christo and Jeanne-Claude from (1980-1983) created one of their most stunning-looking projects, Surrounded Islands in Greater Miami. The artist duo’s inspiration was to create “a delicate symbiotic connection between art, city and nature” without harming the nature around the eleven man-made islands. The project was executed with the help of marine biologists, ornithologists, mammal experts, marine engineers, consulting engineers, and builder-contractor.

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Surrounded Islands, Florida_©Wolfgang Volz

The most crucial part of the project was the sewing of 60 hectares of pink woven polypropylene fabric. At the time of sewing, a flotation strip was added into each seam, and then these sections were accordion-folded to make the unfurling process easy on the water. This project garnered comprehensive media and tourist attention.

2. Lucas Cultural Arts Museum

The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum in Chicago aims to be “porous and open.” The structure appears monumental and iconic. It is devoted to the art and design of storytelling. It houses a vertical gallery with an atrium tower that raises the traditional, horizontal galleries of the museum. The tower is enveloped with a dome-like membrane. The membrane creates a sheltered public space for the public in Chicago. 

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Lucas Cultural Arts Museum_©OMA

The ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer) membrane is used as a building material since it is characterized by high light, UV transmittance, temperature resistance, and very low weight. ETFE films are replaceable, fully recyclable, and have a long service life. 

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3. Glowing Home by Suppose Design Office

The Glowing Home was designed by Japanese architects Suppose Design Office in Hiroshima. The architect utilized translucent polycarbonate walls to allow natural light to penetrate the interior from all sides without compromising residents’ privacy. The windows of the house are also made of the same material. The material is not only cost-effective but also provides a minimalistic clean outlook.

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Glowing Home by Suppose Design Office_©Takumi Ota

4. BIHOME Plastic-Skinned Eco House

The Ecohouse is located outside the Broad Art Center on UCLA’s campus. The 350-square feet house was designed by the students of UCLA architecture and urban design department and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability under the guidance of architect Kevin Daly, IOES professors Jon Christensen and Ursula Heise, and cityLAB director Dana Cuff. 

Their main goal was to create affordable, energy-efficient, and low-water consuming houses. ETFE plastic-based material is a thin, strong, translucent polymer wrapped around a pavilion-like structure made of the pipe frame.

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BIHOME Plastic-Skinned Eco House_©Nico Marques_Photekt

5. Foil-Wrapped Markel Building

When Haigh Jamgochian visited the American Institute of Architects he was served baked potato wrapped in foil which inspired him to design the Markel office building. The exterior of the building is wrapped in a solid, unbroken piece of 555-ft long aluminum. Jamgochian himself textured and crinkled the aluminum by hand. In 2009, Digital Journal declared it as one of the “The World’s 10 Ugliest Buildings.” Despite that, it is still considered one of the most unique buildings. 

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Foil-Wrapped Markel Building_©wikipedia

6. Mesh Wrap on the Kukje Art Center

The gallery in Seoul, South Korea, is known for its dynamic and bold appearance. The customized steel mesh used throughout the exterior of the structure creates a sense of openness. The inspiration of the mesh derived from the chainmail mesh which was used during the wars as armor especially in central Asia. This steel mesh is made out of 510.0 individually welded rings. The mesh owns its rigidity due to metal and flexibility to the way the rings interlink. 

The mesh is extremely strong but flexible enough to wrap around the desired body and shape. The SO-IL architectural firm with Front Inc, a façade engineering firm conducted immense research for facade development. The mesh was prepared and produced under the supervision and quality control of Front and SO – IL by the local craftsmen of China.

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Mesh Wrap on the Kukje Art Center_©Iwan Baan

7. Hiro-En House, Australia

Australian studio Matt Gibson Architecture + Design renovated a Victorian-era villa into the Japanese architectural concept of “hiro-en.” The main desire of the client of a deep verandah for better connectivity with the surrounding and sheltered outdoors was fulfilled with the steel mesh curtain. The northern and western part of the house was enveloped by the steel mesh curtain which protected from both sun and rain. 

During the daytime, curtains allowed the penetration of light from the north while filtering the heat and glare from the west. Depending on the requirement the curtains provided exposure or enclosure to the housemates.

Hiro-En House, Australia_©Shannon McGrath

References

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Shira Wolfe.Stories of Iconic Artworks: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands.[online]. Available at:Stories of Iconic Artworks: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands – Artland Magazine.[Accessed 3 October 2021].

Bill Chappell.(2021).Here’s Why The Arc De Triomphe Was Just Wrapped In Fabric.[Last updated 17 September 2021].[online]. Available at:Arc De Triomphe Is Wrapped In Fabric, Fulfilling One Of Christo’s Last Wishes : NPR.[Accessed 3 October 2021].

OMA.Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.[online].Available at:Lucas Cultural Arts Museum (oma.com).[Accessed 3 October 2021].

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Amy Frearson.(2013).Suppose Design Office’s House of Tousuienn has translucent plastic walls.[Last updated 5 December 2013].[online]. Available at:Suppose Design Office’s House of Tousuienn has translucent walls (dezeen.com).[Accessed 3 October 2021].

Frances Anderton.(2015).Could Affordable Eco-Housing Be in Your Backyard?[Last updated 17 June 2015].[online]. Available at:Could Affordable Eco-Housing Be in Your Backyard? | KCRW.[Accessed 3 October 2021].

SA Rogers.That’s a Wrap! 15 Building Facades Veiled in Plastic & Cloth.

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[online]. Available at:That’s a Wrap! 15 Building Facades Veiled in Plastic & Cloth | Urbanist (weburbanist.com).[Accessed 3 October 2021].

Carnibu1[Atlas obscura user].The Markel Building.[online]. Available at:The Markel Building – Richmond, Virginia – Atlas Obscura.[Accessed 9 October 2021].

SO-IL Architects.Kukje Gallery / SO-IL.[online]. Available at:Kukje Gallery / SO-IL | ArchDaily.[Accessed 9 October 2021].

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Michele Koh Morollo.(2018).A Steel Mesh Curtain Wraps Around This Renovated Australian Home.[Last Updated May 31, 2018].[online]. Available at:A Steel Mesh Curtain Wraps Around This Renovated Australian Home – Dwell.[Accessed 9 October 2021].

Author

Ashruti Singh is an Architect based in Lucknow with a passion for reading, writing, and research. She loves exploring and reading about Interactive urban design and Sustainable alternative materials. She is strong-headed and soft-hearted, who believes in expressing emotions through her work.

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