Composites Can Have Aesthetic Advantages Too

Written by Paula Findley

Carbon fiber and other composites are used to make fuselage panels for airplanes because the materials are stronger and lighter than aluminum and steel. The same can be said for everything from boat hulls to bike frames. But there’s more to carbon fiber than just strength and rigidity. Believe it or not, it can have aesthetic advantages too.

The better fabricators are getting at using carbon fiber materials, the more they are able to focus attention on the aesthetic properties of finished products. Suffice it to say they are coming up with some pretty outstanding designs. Go to any of the world’s major auto shows and you’ll see it firsthand.

Of course, aesthetics is like beauty. It is in the eye of the beholder. But increasingly, designers are leaning on composites to create beautiful objects that are simultaneously strong and durable. Take the example of a brand-new set of schools in India.

Building a Carbon Fiber Facade

Architects in Kolkata were given the task of designing two new school buildings that would stand up to the harsh weather of India while still being designed in such a way as to bring a new kind of vibe to the West Bengal city. Interestingly enough, the design firm that came up with the facade for the two buildings wasn’t brought on board until construction had already begun. They were invited to take part for one very specific reason: the firm previously working on the facade had failed to come up with something that would look good and still meet building specifications.

Project requirements dictated a facade that accounted for environmental concerns, ventilation, air circulation, and classroom layout. Yet the design also had to create a unique identity that would set the schools apart. Designers were not allowed to give priority to one aspect of the design at the expense of the other. That is what the first firm did. They accomplished the facade’s mechanical goals but still came up with a finished product that looked too generic.

The new firm gave project leaders what they wanted. Designers came up with a carbon fiber solution that consists of a series of panels featuring letters, numbers, and shapes. The panels were applied to the exteriors of both buildings, completely wrapping them and giving them a unified look.

An Educational Stencil of Sorts

To see pictures of the schools is to see two structures that look like giant rectangular boxes with educational stencils glued to them. The look is actually quite impressive. It certainly gives the buildings a unique presentation – especially when you compare them to the rest of the architecture in the general area.

The stencil design is mechanically effective in that it provides some protection from the sun without inhibiting air circulation or ventilation. It also does not block out the windows, and it works completely separate from the layout of individual classrooms. From an aesthetic standpoint, the carbon fiber facade is both visually appealing and artistically unique.

Carbon fiber experts at Rock West Composites in Salt Lake City say that fabricating the facades should not have been all that difficult. Manual layups for each panel could be completed in a short amount of time in any well-equipped fabrication shop. And because the panels are so light when compared to steel or aluminum, they could be more easily shipped and placed.

Carbon fiber may be superior to other materials in terms of strength and rigidity, but it can also be aesthetically pleasing too. Thanks to very creative engineers and designers, we are seeing evidence of that more frequently.

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Paula Findley

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