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A way in

My Take | June 9, 2014 | By:

When I tell people what I do, there is often a moment of silence while the answer gets processed. They get the editor part; it’s “advanced textiles” that trips them up.

But when I tell them about all the amazing materials, technology and expertise in the advanced textiles industry, they’re genuinely surprised. I start with something everybody knows: fabric-domed stadiums. “Oh, that kind of fabric,” their faces tell me. Once they can get a picture of that dome in their heads, I can launch into a list of all the industries that benefit from high-performance textiles of all kinds.

Inevitably (because I live in Minneapolis, Minn.) the Metrodome is referenced. I point out that the dome did not “collapse,” in 2010 as was reported. The fabric tore under the weight of heavy snow. However, that roof was installed in 1982. Warranties had long expired and it had, in fact, outlived its expected use by several years.

With advances in engineering, new materials and many more options for fabric-clad architecture, that type of structure (air-supported) would probably not be built today in a location with snowy winters. However, there will be a new “dome” in Minneapolis. The new stadium that will be home to the Minnesota Vikings football team will have the largest transparent ETFE roof in the U.S., according to the Vikings’ website. Several notable facilities worldwide have used this material, including the WaterCube in Beijing, China; the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K.; Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand; and the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. (See also “A winning solution” in the Featured section on this site.)

These facilities (and the one soon to be constructed in my hometown) provide a high-visibility connection for the public to the world of high-performance architectural textiles, and even though most visitors to these facilities—and other fabric-clad buildings—may have no direct connection to the industry, the buzz created, generally, is good for everyone who makes a living in an advanced textiles market.

You might not agree that the fabric on a structure necessarily qualifies as an advanced textile, but after you read the featured article by fabric architecture expert, Bruce Wright, you’ll see what I mean.

Wright discusses sophisticated, engineered structures with truly innovative fabrics for cladding: flexible photovoltaic fabric, TiO2 coatings, super hydrophobic nanocoatings, phase change materials and UV-absorbing enhancements are all part of the new fabric architecture vocabulary.

A tent is not exactly a structure, but it is a shelter dependent on fabric. I can’t help but think nostalgically about my days as a guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The canvas wall tents we used kept the rain out pretty well—to a point. If it rained too hard for too long, droplets appeared on the inside and could eventually get so heavy that they landed on the sleeping campers below. If the canvas wasn’t completely taut, the rain would pool up and exacerbate the problem. And those wet tents, wrapped with the jute rope we used to tie them between two trees, were darned heavy to lug over the portages.

It’s an enormous leap from there to the products discussed in our featured articles in this issue.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source and Specialty Fabrics Review. Contact her at

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