Inflatable Cladding

When it comes to cladding a building architects have many options. Cladding options are nearly endless and add character and feeling to the structure. In the past when it came to translucent and transparent cladding we really only had the option; glass or heavy duty plastic. Today Hightex is changing that with a line of materials that are tensile and provide similar results.

The Commercial Building in Lausanne explores one option for a tensile structure on a grid. This building shows us that tensile structures do not have to be domes or tents. The building is located in in the urban district of Flon (the formal industrial district). The building was designed by B + W Architects sits on what was an empty industrial area. This building was constructed in an empty industrial area with only warehouses around it and ended up turning the neighborhood into a culturally vibrant scene.

The building has three levels of floor-high, triangular structures made of white air-filled membrane cushions. This tensile cladding system sits on top of the ground floor that is clad in clear glazing. Each panel is made from four membranes stretching over 2 large triangular braces. The panel is strong and controlled by two separate pressures keeping each of the membranes inflated and making them an excellent thermal barrier. The building was erected on top of a four level under ground parking ramp. The necessity for a light and functional façade was the driving factor the creation of the panel.

One of the neat characteristics about this building is that at night the façade is translucent which transforms the building into a large streetlight and turns the building into a radiant landmark for the city. Since this building sits at an important crossroads for pedestrian circulation, the light helps invite more people into the area and also helps increase the safety of the junction.


While modeling this structure I learned a lot. I found that it is nearly impossible to create a replica for the building at a 1 : 5 scale simple because the lack of pressure and real structure for the panel. In my trial and error I ended up laser cutting a template for the panels and then vacuum sealing each individual panel with 1/10” PETG. This worked well but it was challenging to achieve the consistency the building has without continuously pressurized panels.

The building has many interesting details you can see below. These details are very specific and help the building to function at the level it does and help create the minimal seen façade structure.

The building reminds us that there are alternatives to traditional cladding systems. Even if you do not like the way the building looks, you have to appreciate the way it functions. The cladding being up to 80% lighter and functioning as good a traditional system puts this building on the frontier of building innovation for me.


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