In the heyday of high modernism, architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe extolled the aesthetic value of whiteness, which they viewed as connoting purity and simplicity. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, for example, paired the stripped-down whiteness of its structural skeleton with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, using the enveloping natural light to further elevate the already heavenly aspirations of the space. Today, some contemporary architects and designers have evolved the sublime aesthetics of white high modern architecture by using translucent fabric partitions, complementing the purity of the white walls with the fabrics’ ethereal play of light and shadow. Below, we discuss different design strategies for working with white fabrics in this way, and include two examples of projects that have used translucent fabrics in soothing but innovative ways.
While designers can use any number of different colors to create a variety of different atmospheres, we will focus on the cultivation of a monochrome white aesthetic using white ceilings and walls, white fabric partitions, and white furniture. To create their specific ideal effect, designers can experiment with fabric type, especially translucency and texture. Because they are not structural, partitions of this type can be made of almost any relatively durable textile, including cotton, polyester, or nylon chiffon, organza, rubia, or mesh. Depending on these types, the partitions may filter in more or less light and slightly varying textures of shadows. Rubia, for example, is typically more opaque than organza or chiffon, and each is also constructed of a different pattern of weave. Likewise, different types of netting or mesh might appear coarser than finer fabrics where the gaps and threads are less obvious. Architects should make these choices by gauging which selection would complement the other materials and lighting conditions best.
These complementary materials will typically follow the subdued or monochrome aesthetic of the white fabrics: architects can use steel, light woods, or painted structural materials in tandem with the translucent fabrics to achieve the same ethereal effects. These materials should again be chosen based on their coherence with the fabric types and lighting conditions, but more importantly they must also be functional and structurally sound, especially the materials of columns, bars, and other structural elements.
In this 2012 design by SO-IL, seamless floor-to-ceiling fabric partitions separate central work areas to maintain the essence of a shared environment despite the visual segmentation. The translucency of the fabric also functions as a kind of hazy filter, reducing people and objects into surreal, dream-like silhouettes. The flattening, de-clarifying effect on depth and space hearkens to the sublimity of the original white modernist designs.
This design for a fashion exhibition in South Korea utilizes the simplicity and ethereality of the white fabric partition as a beautiful but unassuming backdrop for the display of contemporary fashion designs. Imbuing this aesthetic effect with additional cultural meaning, the exhibition design models the interior space after the Korean hanbok, a type of traditional garment typically worn during festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies.