February 4, 2011
zeltbahn leather
Zeltbahn 31(source)
Peter Marino, Architect (source)


Zeltbahn 31 is a triangular piece of waterproof fabric with thirty buttons, thirty button-holes, nine rivets and an opening the size of a head. Developed in the 1930s for the German army, it was a versatile device, which was to be used as a piece of clothing, dwelling and as an all-purpose survival tool.


It was possible to fashion it in six different ways: as a poncho-style raincoat for marching troops, mounted soldiers and bike riders; as a tent housing four, eight or sixteen men, depending on how many units were fastened together; filled with straw and securely tied, it worked as a flotation device; as a winter blanket; a rain-canopy; and as a hammock or a stretcher to carry wounded soldiers, when fastened to two poles.


The camouflage pattern of the Zeltbahn 31 simulated both weather and landscape as vertical gray lines merge with raindrops and a smokey color palette to create an ambient fog effect. Following the lead of any respectable fashion house, the patterns were updated seasonally for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, depending on the deciduous or perennial character of the local flora of troop deployment, be it in an African desert, tropical jungle or continental forest in the midst of swamps, palm trees and oak trees respectively.


With its patterning, Zeltbahn 31 was a uniform that doubled as a shelter for a nomad. The garment emulates strategies of nomadic tribes that have been wearing their dwellings in their everyday lives for centuries, be it in the Mongolian steppe, Berber campsites or in the Persian mountains. In these settings a piece of fabric has often served as an all-purpose survival tool. However, the defense strategy, rather than protecting against weapons-based attacks, relies instead on camouflage designed in response to atmospheric conditions incorporating locally available materials.


Like Zeltbahn 31, traditional nomadic uniforms have inspired further updates of an itinerant shelter at different scales, ranging from Hussein Chalayan’s hats which expand into dresses, Andres Jaque’s Automatic Fabric, Toyo Ito’s Nomad Girl, Archigram’s Instant Cities, to the Drop City commune in the American desert.


Daniel Fernàndez Pascual


Uniformity arises through repetition as evinced by many architects’ preference for monotony where work-wear is concerned. While the overwhelming cliché (uniform) remains the architect in black, many designers have found a way to set themselves apart: by wearing customized garments. Unlike the usual connotation of the uniform, which typically unifies a group of wearers, these individualized outfits maintain the integrity of the architect’s personal identity via originality. As uniformity is reinforced by repeated adornment over time, the ubiquitous black ensembles can maintain their uniform status by being worn by anyone in the architecture tribe for any given length of time, whereas individualized garments can only gain uniform status through consistent adornment by a single person.


Erandi de Silva


Edited by Erandi de Silva


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