Cornell University is partnering with the Marco Island Center for the Arts on a project that is expected to generate waves in the art world. The words “stressed membrane structure” don’t have meaning to the average person, but this joint project is about to change all that in Southwest Florida.

Under the leadership of Professor Kent L. Hubbell, Cornell University professor in the Department of Architecture, a group of graduate and postgraduate architecture students are collaborating with the Marco Island Center for the Arts to explore design possibilities of fabric “stressed membrane structures,” and how they can be integrated into functional and artistic endeavors.

Compared to traditional building structures, these fabric structures:

  • Can lower operational costs.
  • Are sufficiently translucent to allow sunlight to pass through creating a naturally lite environment inside the building.
  • Can be installed quickly and easily relocated.

While the concept of fabric structures is a relatively new concept, amazing buildings utilizing the concept have already been built around the world.

Believe it or not, Denver International Airport has a certified environmental stressed membrane structure covering the entire airport.

In Detroit, Chene Park is a 6,000 seat, acoustically perfect amphitheater and, guess what, it is another stressed membrane structure.

While the list of these buildings continues to grow, other outstanding examples include:

  • The Empire City Casino in Yonkers, NY.
  • The AT&T Global Pavilion in Atlanta.
  • The Carnegie Science Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
  • The Carlos Mosley Pavilion built for the New York Philharmonic.

“We’re thrilled that Cornell University has chosen the Marco Island Center for the Arts as its base to explore this exciting new art and architecture form,” said Hyla Crane, executive director.

“Board member, Bruce Graev, a Cornell alumnus, was instrumental in introducing the Arts Center to Professor Hubbell, and the partnership evolved from there.”

A team of Cornell students will be flown to Marco Island on April 1, where they will spend a week continuing the “hands-on” portion of their “Option Studio.” This class began in January at Cornell in Ithaca, New York to study the potential worldwide impact of fabric structures.

The Center for the Arts will be the home for the studio during its April week in Marco. These talented Cornell students will have the opportunity to explore the unique geometrics of stressed membranes and allow them to investigate the future applications of this building type. During their stay, there will be opportunities, possibly classes, for the public to interact with these students and to learn about structured membranes.

“This studio puts a premium on experimentation and encourages risk-taking in the interest of pursuing innovative design solutions,” commented Professor Hubbell. “We utilize both physical and computational models in pursuit of these goals. The Arts Center is the perfect venue for the students to construct models in a place where there’s light and air surrounding and influencing them.”

Professor Hubbell, who received his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell in 1969, and an M.F.A. in sculpture from Yale in 1973, has also integrated other renowned architects and engineers into his course. Nicholas Goldsmith is a senior principal at FTL Design Engineering Studio in New York City, and is currently teaching at Columbia University. Juan Hinestroza is an associate professor of Fiber Science and director of the Nanotechnology Laboratory at the College of Human Ecology of Cornell University. Denise Green is an assistant professor in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design and the Director of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection. She is also a faculty member in American Indian and Indigenous Studies and the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies.

Along with Professor Hubbell, Goldsmith, Hinestroza, and Green, have created a learning environment that challenges their students to think critically and creatively about the future of stressed membrane structures.

Numerous grants and donations have funded the Cornell Option Studio. In addition, several Arts Center Board members have donated housing, meals, and transportation for the students and professors in support of their Marco visit.

Board member, Bruce Graev serves as the liaison between the Arts Center and the Cornell Option Studio. For more information, contact the Arts Center at 239-394-4221.

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