Stretch Fabric Ceilings Flexible, Light, and Fantastic ARCHITERIALS

Stretch Fabric Ceilings Flexible, Light, and Fantastic ARCHITERIALS

Stretch Fabric Ceilings: Flexible, Light, and Fantastic

1 February 2011 9,743 views One Comment

Depending on your approach, a ceiling can be a tricky proposition. Most of the time ceilings conceal the jumble of tangled wires, structure, ductwork, plumbing, and insulation that allow building systems to function. If youre organized about it, you can leave the ceiling out altogether and simply expose the entrails. But if youre looking to hide the mess up there, a gyp board, plaster or acoustic tile ceiling are probably among the systems youre considering. But what happens when you want to do something a little different? What if you want your ceiling to glow?

I bring this up because Im working on a project right now where a glowing ceiling is the goal. Its a small, house-sized commercial structure whose organization responds to a grid that extends across an enormous site. Neighboring buildings consist of utterly huge cultural institutions, so this grid, which is expressed by cuts in the concrete paving and in the organization of landscape elements, is substantially out of scale with the tiny little building. That acknowledged, the grid is setting the size for the translucent acrylic ceiling panels that were planning to install inside the structure so light can shine through and the ceiling will glow. I cant include a picture of the project, but the image below should get the general idea across:

I dont know if youve worked with 1/2 translucent acrylic panels lately, but let me tell you: they are all kinds of heavy. As originally designed, each of our panels would have weighed 300 pounds, causing a deflection of approximately 0.7 (which means that our glowing ceiling would take on an appearance that can only be described as pillowed, undeniably and distastefully similar to deluxe toilet paper. One highly intriguing solution (which at the time of this writing is not being pursued, meaning I get to write about what Ive learned instead of drawing it into our construction documents) would be to install a light weight, translucent, stretch fabric ceiling rather than cutting the panels down and jumping through proverbial hoops to support their weight (er not that that is happening).

Image courtesy Newmat USA

Stretch fabric ceiling systems consist of a ceiling membrane, rails to attach the membrane to the walls, rings or grommets to allow light fixtures and other miscellaneous objects to penetrate the membrane, and subframing, which allows the membrane to change direction, slope, etc. The ceiling membranes can be obtained in many different finishes from various manufacturers, including lacquer, matte, mesh, perforated, and of course, translucent.  Two companies Ive been researching lately are Newmat USA and Extenzo. Looking at photos of their installations made me wonder if I havent seen stretch ceilings installed without realizing they were there.

One of the major problems with glowing ceilings is the fact that the glow doesnt last forever. Eventually lamps burn out, no matter what, and you have to change them. Using big heavy ceiling panels means that when this happens, a maintenance person has to find a friend or two, grab a ladder, and start shoving ceiling panels around. If the panels are delicate, they will break. If they are heavy, they will be dropped. A stretch ceiling is light weight and can easily detach from its supporting rails to allow for maintenance, and Id imagine that replacing a damaged membrane wouldnt be too difficult.

The other interesting aspect of stretch fabric systems is that they allow the ceiling surface to take on wild deformations that simply arent possible with other systems due to how much it would cost or the complexity of fabrication. A project for the customs house in Sydney, Australia by LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture) is an example of an installation of the product that takes advantage of its properties:

Image courtesy

Has anyone installed one of these systems? Let me know how it went!

WU XING: Im filing stretch fabric ceilings under metal and wood, because theyre flexible and involve fastening.


Green Void by LAVA. Dezeen. 12/16/08. Accessed 1/31/11. URL .

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