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Digitally printed fabric banners wrap car park

Miscellaneous | September 1, 2012 | By:

N.C. design students’ mural idea makes it big in Raleigh as a fabric wrap of a car park.

Sometimes it pays to wait. With five years of slow economic growth putting the skids on local development in Raleigh, N.C., owners of a downtown nine-story parking ramp (with plans to expand it with new retail and offices) placed its redevelopment on hold. Empire Properties of Raleigh decided it couldn’t wait, however, to do something about the appearance of the structure and approached the nearby College of Design at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and hit the jack pot when it teamed up with design professor Charles Joyner.

Joyner, associate professor Pat Fitzgerald and assistant professor McArthur Freeman—seeing an opportunity to inspire students with a real-world design challenge—gathered their students and held an in-studio competition for ideas to wrap the drab parking ramp in art and design. Winner of the studio challenge was the team of Jordan Deva, Joe Lawson and Justin Phillips, who designed a 15-panel mural they call “The Fantastic Sky Race” that fuses images of local landmarks with world environment iconography ranging from coastal waters and grassy landscapes to arid deserts and urban streets. Local icons include a Sir Walter Raleigh statue, NCSU’s bell tower and the state’s ubiquitous dogwood tree.

Project management was run by Empire’s Ben Steel, who called upon Sign Solutions’ Dave Palmer to fabricate, print and hang the banners. The giant, colorful mural covers two sides of the parking structure with 20,445 square feet of printed 70/30 vinyl fabric mesh. An early proposal called for just painting the building a single color, but Steel calculated the fabric option was comparable in price and more open to creative possibilities. “The cost to use the fabric is the same as if we painted the building a solid color, but this really inspires people,” says Steel.

Installation of the banners involved a custom-designed mounting system that uses taut stainless steel aircraft cable and carabineer clips positioned between banners. Each banner shares at least one vertical cable and the carabineers tie the fabric to the cable through grommets along the banner sides. The top and bottom edges of the banners are kept straight by ¼-inch diameter galvanized steel rods that are inserted into fabric pockets sewn at each end. The rods extend beyond the fabric width by six inches on each side, producing a space of 12 inches between banners.

“This project has been great for the community,” says Steel. “The idea of art at this scale and in such a prominent location is new to people here. Its impact has been fantastic and has gotten a lot of attention.”

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

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