A Facade Drawn in Fabric

John Hill
29. May 2019
Photo: Johh Horner

An existing parking garage in Cambridge, Massachusett's Kendall Square neighborhood has been wrapped in a new fabric facade: a surreal drawing of rectangles and shadows designed by French 2D.

Project: Kendall Square Garage, 2019
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Architect: French 2D, Boston
Manufacturer: Facid North America
Product: Tension-frame mesh fabric facade system
Engineering and Installation: Design Communications, Ltd.
Surface Area: 26,000 sf
Photo: John Horner

Cambridge, Massachusetts, which sits across the Charles River from Boston, is known best as the bastion of two of the oldest universities in the United States: Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Just north of the MIT campus sits the lesser-known Kendall Square, a technology hub that's been described as "the most innovative square mile on the planet," thanks in large part to the proximity of MIT and the school's involvement in the area's development. One Kendall Square, a mixed-use complex made up of around ten buildings, sits in one corner of the area, bordering residential neighborhoods to the north and west and a small industrial area to the east. In turn, an existing parking garage in the complex was wrapped in a facade whose design, by Boston's French 2D, makes it a good neighbor to people who both live and work nearby.

Photo: John Horner

In its previous incarnation, the parking garage at One Kendall Square had a one-story brick base below an otherwise open facade expressing the steel structure and concrete slabs of the parking levels. Not surprisingly, the architecture of the garage was all about economy, inadvertently gaining some expression through the hexagonal openings in the webs of the steel beams. The new exterior design breaks from its predecessor; it "manifests as a hybrid between large-scale canvas and functional facade," per a statement from French 2D, the firm led by sisters Anda and Jenny French.

Photo: John Horner

The graphics that wrap the old parking garage are made up of rectangles — referring to windows? doors? projections? — that appear to be casting shadows in multiple directions at the same time. Combined with the way the rectangles vary in size, the pattern denies a reading of what is going on behind the facade. Is it a garage, an industrial building, or just another piece in Kendall Square's booming technology hub? 

Photo: John Horner

Applied as a tension-frame and mesh fabric facade system produced by Facid North America, the graphic scrim allows air to move through it, an important consideration in parking garages that don't have mechanical ventilation. The facade is also a translucent surface that lets daylight penetrate into the garage and filters views from inside. Jenny French explains in the statement how they "are playing with the relationship between the drawing and the building." They are excited by "seeing through the image from within the garage and realizing that you are now inside the drawing." Just as exciting for us are the custom dresses the Frenches donned to serve as scale figures in photographs — or as they described it, "as freed pieces of the drawing."

Photo: John Horner
Photo: John Horner
Photo: John Horner
Drawing: French 2D
Drawing: French 2D

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