And now the moment you’ve been waiting for. A three part series on variations of tetra-fluorocarbons in architecture. Get some popcorn and pull up a chair, you’re in for a heck of a ride.
The best known, and most widely used member of the tetra-fluoroethylene family is also the one that really got the party started: Polytetrafluoroethylene, AKA: PTFE, AKA Teflon.
That’s right, we’re talking about Teflon, the slipperiest fellow you’ve ever met. The stuff on the pan that makes your incompetence in the kitchen bearable. A friend of all.
Teflon was one of those happy accidents discovered by a brilliant fellow in 1938, working for a little company called DuPont. (DuPont is not little, was not little then, and for all we know was never little. It was just a quaint phrase.)
Since it’s inception, Teflon was recognized for it’s incredibly slippery nature, but it took time for it to become tied to most of the applications we currently associate it with. It took 20 years for them to realize pans could use a bit of slip and develop a teflon coated pan. Actually some of those years were probably spent trying to answer a question that surely baffles many to this day.
Teflon didn’t have any architectural implications until the 1960’s, when DuPont developed a fabric-like material made of woven fiberglass, that was coated with PTFE. It was very light, and very hard-wearing, largely thanks to the durability of Teflon.
Because of it’s strentgh and durability, this material demonstrated strong potential in tensile architecture. The environment is too harsh for traditional fabrics to withstand any significant length of time, whereas many of the earliest Teflon tensile structures are still holding up to the elements nearly 40 years later.
Less than a decade after it hit the architectural scene, Teflon was summoned for what is still considered it’s largest application: The Metrodome.
Built in 1982, The Metrodome roof is a pneumatically supported dome covering nearly 20 acres, with a primary goal of protecting the poor Vikings from a little cold weather, so that they may lead their franchise to victory. (Note that Lambeau requires no such dome.) While the dome seems to have failed in that sense, and as such is being discarded by the optimistic franchise (the new stadium will lead to more winning for sure), it has for the last 30 years protected millions of fans from some seriously nasty weather, with only a few hiccups along the way.
All joking aside however, the incredible lightness of the material allowed for the entire roof to be supported by air, for Pete’s sake. The incredible weight savings of reduced structure is immensely compounded in an application this size, and can lead to an almost unbelievable material savings. For the sake of a figure, the metrodome roof weighs nearly 200,000 pounds. That may sound heavy, but the convertible roof over Miller park in Wisconsin covers a similar area and weighs 200,000 tons. If you’re confused because that’s the same number, check the units again.
Clearly the metrodome represents an incredible milestone in tensile architecture, but there was still much progress to be made materially, and many state-of-the-art tensile buildings have decided to go with PTFE’s more impressive younger brother, ETFE.
So go refresh your popcorn, and come right back for more in:
THE ADVENTURES AND GRADUAL PROGRESSION OF TETRA-FLOUROETHYLENES IN ARCHITECTURE!