Soft Walls for Curvy Spaces
While "softhousing" for the Bowery project is still undergoing materials research and development, many of the design challenges have been worked out in the softwall partition wall that has recently been introduced to the market.
The partition wall is highly flexible in shape and size, and it can be easily transported and set up anywhere to alter the space of a room on a whim. It is translucent, fire retardant, modular (multiple walls can be snapped together), and the delicate honeycomb pattern evokes origami and Japanese paper-craft. As such, it fits in well with modern decor styles.
The architects have worked closely with a nonwoven-textile manufacturer and honeycomb fabricators to develop a product that is ultraviolet- and chemical-resistant, as well as 100 percent recyclable and made with recycled content.
Honey of a Wall System
The flexible honeycomb structure allows the softwall to open and curve in a variety of ways or fold away when not in use. The honeycomb structure, with its vertical cells of air, and the crenelated surface of softwall also make the most of the wall's acoustic dampening properties — no doubt one of the features that prompted Sir Paul McCartney to purchase softwalls for his recording studio.
The biggest kudos may have come from New York's Museum of Modern Art which has added softwall to its permanent collection. The softwall design also won a 2005 International Index Award for its potential to improve lives.
The walls can be cleaned with the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner. And the textile version of the softwall is water repellant yet vapor permeable, so it can be used near open windows and other potentially damp areas.
Because the nonwoven textile material is chemically resistant to cleaners, food, and beverages, and is hypoallergenic, it also performs well in salons, galleries, and clothing stores. (Fashion designer Yeohlee recently used a paper softwall as a backdrop to one of her fashion shows).
Softwall is also strong. It is resistant to tearing and puncture so will stand up to heavy use, making shorter versions perfect for use as a temporary bar at a party or event.
Softwall is available in standard heights of 4 and 6 feet (1.2 and 1.8 meters) for the paper version, and 3 and 6 feet (0.9 and 1.8 meters) for the nonwoven textile model. Custom paper softwalls of up to 10 feet (3.0 meters) are also available. Currently, the paper and textile softwalls are available in white, and the company will soon be launching a black version. They have several other materials and "softstructures" under development.
Also designed by Forsythe and MacAllen, the "float tea lantern" emerged as an idea while the pair was working on a housing project for a Japanese design competition.
As they were attempting to devise a window that incorporated a vacuum chamber that would increase the thermal properties of the window while keeping the glass surface cool to the touch, they happened onto the development of the float tea lantern.
Made and distributed under their firm's product design company, molo design, the tea lantern and matching cups won acclaim at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City in 2004 and awards from both UNESCO and The Architecture Review, London.
Watch for other product offerings from this innovative group. An ingenious light fixture that uses photo-luminescent film to cast an ambient light is in the works. "Love letter" is the appropriately named film that acts like a dry-erase board so you can use it as an illuminated memo pad.
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Janet Collins is a freelance writer and editor based in British Columbia. She has written for Canadian Architect, Canadian Interiors, Canadian Facility Management & Design, and many other publications.