Photo: Exterior of fabric-concrete home design

The Norwich Record | Winter 2018

Architecture Professor Eleanor D’Aponte is on a mission to help revitalize the use of poured concrete in American building design. And, she’s doing so using fabric.

Just inside Architecture Professor Eleanor D’Aponte’s office in Chaplin Hall, a sculpture catches the eye. It is a table with bulging legs, like balloons filled with water, but made of solid concrete. “A group of students in a seminar created this table, which was formed with fabric,” she explained. The students sewed polyester fabric into the shape of the legs as they envisioned them. They built a supporting rig, hung the fabric, poured in the concrete, and let gravity do its job. “The weight causes the fabric to bulge,” she concluded. “For design students this technique is incredible because it requires them to build a negative of what they’re envisioning.”

The cover of the 2017 book, The Family Cabin, features a house with inner and outer solid-concrete walls that bulge in controlled, horizontal rows. The house, located in nearby Waitsfield, Vt., was “formed with fabric” using a more sophisticated version of the method D’Aponte’s students employed to create the table. D’Aponte co-designed the house with ArroDesign, a local architecture firm that also experiments with fabric.

A small but growing architecture paradigm is emerging around this principle. The technique found its U.S. origins with Mark West, who introduced the idea to D’Aponte when he spoke at Norwich University a decade ago. Since then, she has written several papers on the subject and recently received a Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation grant to study poured-concrete buildings in Europe.

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