A text about Bedouin tents, black wool and cacti. Being interested in textile architecture and the nomadic lifestyle I chose to look into the construction and function of the black Bedouin tents.
Bedou = inhabitant of the desert. The Bedouin are an Arab semi-nomadic ethnic group in North Africa and Middle East descended from nomads who historically inhibited the Syrian and Arabian deserts. The Bedouin live in woollen tents, called Black tents. Herding goats and camels are a part of the traditional Bedouin culture. The goats and camels follow the Bedouin through the desert and provide them with milk, meat and wool. –> for making tents!
Being a desert nomad means living in full contact with the arid environment of the desert with its hot climate, dry sand and high diurnal temperature variations. The Black tents are well designed to fit that lifestyle. They are lightweight, portable, foldable and can easily be put up and packed down. The woollen tent cloth of the Black tents also provides a dense shade in the daytime and protects against the cold in the night.
The traditional Black tent membrane is made from goat’s and camel’s wool and handwoven by the Bedouin women on ground looms. The woven rugs are used for the floors, walls and ceilings of the Bedouin dwelling. So the textile tradition is very much a part of their architecture -they are weaving architecture here!
Wool as a construction material. Wool is natural textile fibre made from animal hair, mostly sheep but also other animals such as goat or camel. It is a material with tensile properties that can be stretched and pulled into different shapes. The wool fibre has a crimped shape which gives it a high specific heat coefficient, it can retain heat and has good insulation properties. From a sustainable point of view, wool is interesting as a construction material since it is a renewable material made from natural fibres. It is also easy to repair. And in this case it is a locally produced material since the animal and Bedouin live together.
The shape of the Black tent and material properties of the woollen tent membrane creates a natural ventilation inside the tent. When the sun hits the black roof of the tent, hot air starts to rise above the cloth and forces air to be drawn out from inside the tent. This creates a cooling wind effect during the hot days. On rainy or snowy days the woollen fibres absorb water and swell, creating a thicker and tighter tent membrane.
The self shading cactus. In nature, one can also find smart examples of surface design that prevents overheating. One example is the Peruvian Torch Cactus (Trichocereus peruvianus). The cactus has developed cooling ribs that gives it a self shading surface. When sunlight hits one side of the rib it automatically shades the other side of it (see little figure on the right). A smart way of avoiding overheating!
So, from all this new knowledge about the woollen Bedouin Black tent and the smart self shading shape of the Peruvian Torch Cactus, can we make a new self shading tent membrane optimized for the desert climate??
One idea is to use traditional textile manipulation techniques to give the tent membrane a new 3-dimensional structure. My theory is that a 3-dimensional tent surface would have a self shading effect, just like the cactus, and prevent the tent membrane from getting too hot in the daytime. Also should a tent membrane with a creased surface have better heat insulating properties than a flat tent membrane, since the folds in the structure would create a lot of small air pockets.
Smocking technique. Smocking is a traditional textile technique used to transform a textile and give it a new 3-dimensional pattern. The smocking technique is based on a grid of points, marked on the fabric. Using needle and tread you connect points in a specific pattern which gives the fabric a new creased structure. I’ve been experimenting with the honeycomb/diamond technique which gives the textile a honeycomb shape on one side and a striped pattern on the other side. (see pictures below!)
My hope is that smocking textile manipulation can be used to create a new type of tent membrane that will be well fit for the desert climate and at the same time showing the possibilities of using textile techniques in architectural design.
By Vera Ceginskas Lindström
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