Architectural Applications of Fiberglass

When one thinks of fiberglass in architecture, the first thing that comes to mind is insulation; but fiberglass has many other architectural uses, some unknown to most architects. Whether it's used on the structure or as a complimentary embellishment, this material can be surprising. Furthermore, this material has a wide list of positive properties: it withstands inclement weather, it behaves well in sub-zero temperatures, it doesn't suffer from corrosion, it's easy to maintain, it has low thermal conductivity, it's sturdy, behaves well in tension and compression, it's light, allows a smooth finish and it's cheap compared to concrete or other traditional materials.

Fiberglass offers a number possibilities when applied to facades.

Fiberglass can be used as a structural shell - Since it's a lightweight material that can be easily assembled and pre-fabricated it can be a good alternative to cast concrete or wood structures when designing a complex shape, such as a non-orthogonal organic shape, and keep it light. While a fiberglass shell structure is not standalone, because it needs a substructure to contain it, it still saves time and money. A good example of the use of fiberglass as a part of a structural ensemble would be the House of Dior in South Korea; the fiberglass gives the structure a smooth glossy finish and a continuous shape.

Another possible use for this versatile material would be screens; fiberglass can be as versatile as plastic or metal when it comes to fabricating screens- it can be shaped into strips and woven like it's done in the Maximo Dutti Store in Mexico, where in addition it's given a glossy metallic finish thus proving the versatility of the material.

If mixed with composites, concrete, or polyester, fiberglass can also be used as cladding; this version of fiberglass comes in panels, and it's installed as any other cladding panel, providing the added benefit of easy replacement in case of specific damage. Pure fiberglass panels can also be found in the market.

When paired with fabric, fiberglass can be an ally at the moment of erecting tenso-structures such as shades in public spaces or exterior facade skins. It provides the structure with rigidity while keeping it light; it also improves the material's impermeability and doesn't decay or disintegrate like gypsum, which could be used with a similar result.

Construction Method
Fiberglass consists of sheets of fine glass fibers; to make these fibers into a structure, they need to be pasted together in a way similar to papier mache, but instead of glue a special resin is used. To create the desired shape, a cast or supportive structure will be needed; depending on the type of fiberglass object that's being made, the cast or support can be coated with an oil or wax to be removed, like with cast concrete, or it can stay in its place and become part of the structure. After the cast or supportive structure is assembled, the fiberglass fibers can be glued in capes consisting of resin, fiberglass sheets and more resin, repeating the process until reaching the desired thickness. When the fiberglass dries it's possible to sand it, in order to give it a smoother finish and fix any imperfections; then, a coat of paint can be applied depending on the desired facade finish.

Pro Tip: Fiberglass fibers can be dangerous if inhaled or touched bare handed, protection must be used at all times.

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