In its design of a new outpatient clinical wing for the Naval Hospital Bremerton, the architectural design firm NBBJ wanted elements that evoked U.S. Navy symbols and traditions. NBBJ's people had the idea to use fabric as light diffusers and partitions early on. They came to us with ideas from Italian lighting catalogues. I talked them and the military into allowing us to make the designs unique to the space and modular (for ease of in-stallation and cost-effectiveness).

We designed the light panels in groups of 3′ × 3′ squares and 3′ × 5′ panels, and then combined them in elevator lobbies, corridors, and rooms based on the fluorescent light layout. The lights were bare bulbs, and we had to find fabric that could be installed close to the light source without the bulbs showing through the fabric.

The light diffusers are really a “kit of parts.” All of the corners are powder-coated metal, with rods and clip attachments. Everything breaks down into a small package for shipping and, during assembly, snaps together.

The wall panels and the room dividers are more complex. They have a large (12′) curve going one way and a lower-edge curve bending the opposite way. A furniture company custom-made platforms that were approximately 2′ × 14′ curves, to which we attached the hardware; we added blocking to the ceiling for the upper attachments. Designing and cutting fabric to stretch in opposite ways and stay taut was much more difficult than it might appear.

We used sailing-type stainless hardware turnbuckles (costly but nice) and aluminum flat bar. These clip off, if needed, when panels are changed or cleaned. The fabric is a light, mesh stretch material woven wide enough to fit the 12′ × 6′ to 8′ widths. Again, these wall panels and room dividers were delivered in pieces and assembled quite rapidly on site. They are used for room/chair layout definition and to give some visual softness to the waiting rooms and elevator lobbies.

We used the fabrics in a way that hints at sailing elements without being too obvious. I think everyone is happy with the result. And the cost was low and the sails easy to install for an overall effective result. HD