ETFE - The Contemporary Architectural Choice
To give ETFE material its proper name, Ethylene TetraFluoroEthylene, it sounds like a modern product. Indeed, many are calling the material a next generation membrane - a material that can be used where glass cannot. But what is it that makes ETFE architecture so new and how has it been applied? Find out more about ETFE material and its possible uses. Who knows? You could even be specifying it for your next design project and wowing your clients with the unrivalled possibilities of ETFE architecture.
Examples of ETFE Architecture
A new product it may be, but ETFE material has already been used in a number of high profile construction projects. There are now plenty of sites around the world which showcase the benefits of ETFE architecture.
The Eden Project, UK
The Eden Project, a bio-visitor center in south west England, is probably the most notable site where ETFE architecture is in situ within the borders of Great Britain. The project is made up of a number of domes which were fashioned from a sections of steel. In between the steel hexagons of each dome is ETFE material which allows UV light to flood in. This is an essential ingredient in the project because the ETFE material allows the plant life below it to grow. Multi-layered ETFE material was used in the bio-domes which offers the interior strong levels of thermal insulation. Some of the ETFE panels are up to nine meters in length.
The Beijing National Aquatics Center, China
Probably the most famous ETFE architecture project in the world, this swimming center was built for the 2008 Olympic Games at a cost of some $140 million. Known as the "Water Cube", part of the external cladding of the super-modern building was made from ETFE material. The use of ETFE architecture gives the building a very different look from others that were specially constructed for the games. Based on a steel frame, the ETFE material is used to fill the gaps referred to as "pillows". This is the largest example of ETFE architecture globally to date and in excess of 100,000 square meters were covered by ETFE material in the construction process.
Allianz Arena, Germany
Used for football matches in Munich, the Allianz Arena was a joint architectural project designed by ArupSport and Herzog & de Meuron. Currently home to FC Bayern Munich, it has a façade of ETFE material. The ETFE panels were inflated with air in order to create a thermally insulating layer. Additionally, the ETFE architecture includes small dots throughout the ETFE material which gives the transparent covering something of an opaque look when viewed at a distance, an interesting visual use of the material. Nevertheless, the ETFE material allows light in and out. The 2,874 panels used in the façade can each effect individually colored lights to shine out under a clever lighting design allowing, for example, team colors to be displayed.
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The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, Kazakhstan
Opened in July 2010, the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center is another fine example of ETFE architecture in action. This huge construction covers an elliptical base that accounts for in the region 140,000 square meters. Indoors, there is an entertainment center along with streets, boating facilities, a shopping mall and even a beach resort. The roof covering the center is made from ETFE material and it is suspended from a network of cables that are strung from a central spire. The use of the transparent ETFE panels gives the center a distinctive look but also allows sunlight shining through, something that lowers lighting costs. Because of the way the ETFE architecture has been organized, the material also helps to maintain the internal temperature.
The National Space Center, UK
Situated in Leicester, the National Space Center is another example of ETFE architecture in the public realm. As visitors approach the center, the changing opacity of the building's ETFE skin becomes apparent. Housing a rocket, the ETFE architecture in this case has been used to create a tower with a soaring vertical form. The ETFE cladding pillows require minimal secondary support systems because of the way in which they have been designed.
Constructing With ETFE Material
Originally developed by DuPont over four decades ago, ETFE was nothing more than an inert coating material and thought of as only of use to the aerospace industry. Once ETFE film was developed, the material was then used in some agricultural applications. Following its use in greenhouses, the material demonstrated its ability to be applied in construction and ETFE architecture was truly born. It has also been used as a coating of solar cells, another architectural use for which it has come in handy.
ETFE foil is extruded into sheets from granulates with incredibly high strength for the thickness of the material. Referred to as either foil or film, extruded ETFE is one of the most lightweight cladding materials that an architect can specify. However, it is the fact that it is transparent that makes it a creative choice for a cladding material. The product boasts a low friction coefficient, too. This has the result that dust or small debris will not stick onto the surface of the material and little maintenance is required, as a result. In addition, because ETFE material is transparent, it will not suffer from discoloring. Since UV light passes through it, discoloring and weakening over time from exposure to sunlight is not really an issue. Another important aspect of the material is that ETFE can also be easily taken down, if required, and recycled.
There are two principle forms of ETFE. Single-layered ETFE requires primarily a proper tension of each element, and sometimes also reinforcements to hold its shape in the form of a sub-structure, usually made from steel or aluminum. Multi-layered ETFE can be created into 'pillows' which have more integral strength, once inflated, and provide higher levels of thermal insulation.
- ETFE architecture allows 1% the weight of glass
- ETFE material can have a better thermal performance than glass