When creating an environment from a blank slate, the opportunities are endless, and when dressing a space that will be used as an incubator for young entrepreneurial high school students, engagement and connection are crucial. This 1,230 square foot classroom at Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois was turned into a bright, open office-like environment. Helping to dress the environment are a series of tension fabric components ranging from ceiling canopies to wall graphics, all manufactured by Fabric Images, Inc.
The designer of the space, Whitney Architects, was tasked with creating a classroom environment uniquely designed to promote collaborative thought with tools to help provide a free flow of ideas, conversation and information. Rather than creating another typical classroom, it was decided that the environment should more closely resemble a business environment. The look of the space was inspired by the Google corporate offices, which are fun, colorful, airy and collaborative. With this type of environment it would be as though the students were going to work, rather than attending another class.
Helping to dress this vision was a number of tension fabric elements. This included twelve 4ft x 4ft canopies, one 10ft x 11ft canopy and wall graphics spanning over 100ft. The framed ceiling canopies were each clad with a white Celtic fabric which gave the over-all ceiling a fresh, modern look. Drawing the eye up along the four walls were silicone edge fabric graphics, each printed using dye sublimation print technology. These graphics contained inspirational quotes from a variety of business leaders.
Acoustical quality within the space was a concern due to the building’s construction. The entire room- floor to ceiling- was concrete. This produced extreme echoing. Finding a solution that would visually meet the design objectives while also having sound absorbing characteristics is what led to tension fabric. The natural sound absorption qualities of the Celtic fabric, along with the finishing style and positioning of the fabric elements within the space created the quiet ambience that was needed.
Adequate lighting within the space was also very important, however where the 127 square foot canopy was located, an alternative to the standard ceiling-hung lighting fixtures had to be developed. The solution for this was to incorporate recessed lights directly into the tension fabric canopy. The frame structure was designed in a manner that allowed the lights and all of the wire management to be housed within the structure itself. Once the fabric was placed over the frame, the recessed lights were flush mounted over the bottom face, creating a clean, integrated style.
Also integrated into the environment were silicone edge fabric graphics with extrusion frames. The graphics posed as the “branding” of the space, while also aiding with sound absorption. Where a challenge arose was with ductwork that was located in the path of the graphics. Precise measurements had to be taken to ensure alignment of “notches” within the framework and fabric graphics to accommodate the ducts.
This open floor plan concept opened the door for the integration of tension fabric. The fabric elements helped to create the ambiance that was intended for the space, while also being a major component for sound dampening. The use of fabric in this environment showcases how easily and effectively tension fabric structures can be incorporated into an office-like environment. Perhaps the successful results of the environment are a glimpse into what classrooms of future will be.