Fabric structures are one of the earliest forms of shelter, and their history can be traced back tens of thousands of years. Their beauty is in the simplicity of the idea: a fabric of some kind stretched out over a frame.
A Foot Firmly in the Past
They range from the basic tent, or yurt, or tipi to circus tents up to the grand structures seen in modern architecture like the Millennium Dome, the Eden Project in Cornwall, as well as the Epcot Center in Florida.
The appeal of fabric structures, whether tensile or rigid, is their versatility and strength, which explains the wide range of uses for the modern incarnation, as roofs at sports stadia, shelters in playgrounds and covered walkways in car parks, shopping centres and airports. They are also free-standing, so in theory can be built almost anywhere, and the thin, yet extremely strong fabrics also allow a huge amount of light to pass through, whether natural daylight during the day, or artificial lighting during the night and the shorter days of winter. Additionally, the coated fabrics can offer protection against the sun, which may be desirable especially for projects in schools and at sports grounds.
The advancement of manufacturing and engineering processes has allowed support structures and the fabric to get lighter and stronger, which has allowed the complex geodesic domes at the Eden Project to become a reality. Thanks to the way the structures are designed, large areas can be covered without the need for additional support beams, which has definite aesthetic advantages over other types of roofing or shelter.
There are, of course, a few downsides to them, and there are situations where they won’t be appropriate. Deep foundations are often needed for the frame, particularly for a very large tensile fabric structure, and this won’t always be possible if space is limited at the site. The cost of securing a tensile structure in these situations may be unacceptably high. However, it may be possible to build a rigid fabric structure as the anchoring requires less groundwork. Specialist companies such as http://www.fabricarchitecture.com/ have a huge range of experience working on tensile structures for projects large and small.
Speaking to their designers and engineers will give clients a very clear understanding of what is and isn’t possible.