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Time travel in (fabric) space

Graphics | January 1, 2012 | By:

A Chicago tourist stop showcases the advantage of creating a visitor entry passageway of digitally printed tension fabric.

Chicago’s Thomas Roszak Architects recently designed and installed a new welcome gallery space to the Adler Planetarium along the Lake Michigan waterfront, constructing it of fabric and highlighting it with dazzling projected imagery of interplanetary travel and digitally printed graphic elements. Assisting in the design and fabrication of the Clark Family Welcome Gallery was Fabric Images Inc., also from the Chicago area, which engineered the multifunctional space that provides visitors to the planetarium a gathering venue and presents an exciting pre-show experience before the main event, the Sky Theater.

Fabric Images used dye-sublimation printing on seamless wide-format polyester fabric and 120-inch wide digital printers. Roszak’s team used parametric modeling techniques to design the complex shapes and surfaces of the welcome gallery, a cathedral-like translucent space with arched fabric vaults and space-bending (and mind-bending) connecting tunnels. Fabric Images helped the designers find the right fabric with the right amount of transparency used in both single and double layers that were precisely fitted to bent aluminum tube frames. According to Roszak Architects, “the fabric had to have the ability to reflect the space’s LED lighting system, but also absorb light where mixed-media video is projected on the fabric walls.” Although many of the surfaces are pure white, some transitional sections have digital graphic elements, designed by Fabric Images, printed on them to encourage the illusion of motion and the warping of space.

To evoke the impression in visitors’ minds that they are “traveling through slices of time,” fabric surfaces and enclosing walls were warped and shaped to suggest moving through time in space. Roszak layered the fabric in alternating areas to create darker and lighter “slices” along the visitor’s pathway with each section representing a “time slice” in outer space.

“The organic nature of fabric architecture was a perfect marriage to enhance the ‘wow’ aspect of the planetarium’s new projection system that is one of the highlights of the Deep Space Adventure,” says Fabric Images president and CEO Marco Alvarez.

Bruce Wright is editor of Fabric Architecture and Fabric Graphics publications of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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