Fabric Architecture Takes on a Deep Space Adventure

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As part of its first major renovation since 1967, the Adler Planetarium enlisted Fabric Images, Inc., to engineer and construct a tensioned fabric space portal and gallery area for its new “Deep Space Adventure” exhibit. Located within the Clark Family Welcome Gallery and entryway, a futuristic, intelligently-illuminated tensioned fabric environment took form that introduces visitors into the Grainger Sky Theater. When opened to the public in July 2011, the experience was proclaimed as being “second only to actual space travel,” as it takes visitors on a tour of the universe.

The road leading to the completion of the experience came with challenges. Due to the age of the Adler Planetarium and its historical standing, a unique challenge was presented in that the architecture could not attach to or alter the building itself in any way. This meant that the fabric architecture making up the “Deep Space Adventure” exhibit had to be self-supporting while encapsulating all of the HVAC, electrical and projection equipment.

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Section drawing of structure

The projection equipment plays a huge role in creating a multimedia experience for attendees. Planetarium visitors are able to interact with the exhibit via multimedia presentations, given by contemporary space explorers, in a dynamic environment of light, sound, and fluid architecture. “Fabric is an ideal material and solution for dressing an environment with personality and uniqueness. Adler’s newest experience captures this point in dramatic fashion,” said Leo Boczar, Director of Communications for FI. “The use of fabric architecture in permanent installations like the Deep Space Adventure is becoming more common, thus elevating fabric architecture as a viable construction methodology in interior design and interactive experiences.”

Vivid images of planets, stars, galaxies and other celestial objects are shown in the highest resolution and quality possible to evoke the feeling of being in deep space. The on-screen imagery expands beyond the traditional 180-degree dome and surrounds the visitors. Special lighting effects in the floor complete the 360-degree experience.

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To accommodate for the multimedia projections and interactive experiences, fabric selection was a critical aspect of the project.  Along with this, other factors had to be considered….

  • The experience would be in place for a minimum of ten years.
  • Traffic and interaction with the architecture would be high.

Due to this, fabric needed to be durable, offer a good projection surface and have the ability to enhance the internal backlighting and surface front lighting.  Overall, the fabric would act as the canvas for the success of the overall experience.

Hallway leading to the theater

Hallway leading to the theater

In light of the complexities of the environment, structural frame and fabric was really the only viable architectural solution to capture the Adler vision.  The construction and installation methodology behind a fabric architecture solution would leave zero impact to the overall Adler Planetarium once the exhibition is cycled out, and a new experience is created.

When all said and done, approximately 13,000 linear feet of aluminum tubing and 20,000 square yards of fabric were utilized to create the experience.

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Client:  Adler Planetarium

Designer/Architect:  Thomas Roszak Architecture

Fabrication:  Fabric Images, Inc.

Installation:  Fabric Images, Inc.

Fabric Images

Fabric Images, Inc. is a premier manufacturer of printed and non-printed tension fabric architecture and material solutions. Our focus is on integrating structural frame and textiles into environments to enrich brand quality and the expressive identity of a space.


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