What exactly is a tensile fabric structure?

A tensile fabric structure is a type of construction that uses a flexible fabric material, such as PVC-coated polyester, PTFE-coated fiberglass, or ETFE film, to create a roof or canopy. The fabric is stretched or tensioned over a supporting frame, which can be made of steel, aluminum, or wood, to create a lightweight and visually striking structure.
Tensile fabric structures can take on many different shapes and sizes, from simple tents to large stadiums or exhibition halls. They are often used in outdoor or semi-outdoor settings, such as sports facilities, event spaces, or public areas.
One of the advantages of tensile structure is their flexibility and versatility. The fabric material can be customized in terms of color, pattern, and transparency, allowing for creative design options. They can also be easily installed and dismantled, making them ideal for temporary structures or for locations where permanent construction is not feasible. Additionally, the fabric material is durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions, making them a practical choice for outdoor use.

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Tensile fabric structures are ideal for a variety of architectural and design applications. Here are some common situations where you might consider using a tensile fabric structure:

Large open spaces: Tensile fabric structures can span large areas without the need for internal columns or supports, making them ideal for stadiums, exhibition halls, and other open spaces.
Climate control: The flexible nature of tensile fabric structures allows for natural ventilation, which can help regulate temperature and air quality in indoor and outdoor spaces.
Aesthetic appeal:Tensile fabric structures offer a unique and visually striking design element to any environment, making them an attractive option for everything from art installations to commercial buildings.
Quick installation: Compared to traditional construction methods, tensile fabric structures can be installed more quickly and efficiently, which can be a significant advantage in time-sensitive projects.
Durability: Tensile fabric structures are designed to withstand the elements and can be constructed with materials that are resistant to UV radiation, fire, and other environmental factors.

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In what applications can a tensile fabric structure be utilized?

tensile structure can be used in a variety of applications, such as:

  • Stadiums, arenas, and sports facilities
  • Outdoor event venues and exhibition spaces
  • Airports, train stations, and bus terminals
  • Car parking shelters and carports
  • Commercial and residential buildings for shading and aesthetics
  • Canopies for walkways, entrances, and outdoor seating areas
  • Industrial facilities for storage, manufacturing, and processing
  • Agricultural and horticultural greenhouses
  • Military and emergency shelters
  • Bridges and pedestrian overpasses
  • These structures offer versatility, durability, and aesthetic appeal while also providing protection from the elements.
  • Tensile structures are versatile and can serve as striking architectural features that stand out in both traditional and modern settings. They can also serve as urban landmarks and local icons.

Membrane canopies are particularly suitable for large, column-free areas. Tension structures can span unsupported lengths of up to 150 feet, or up to twice that amount with steel cable nets. Air structures can span even longer distances without the need for columns. Tensile structures are also well-suited for temporary buildings such as schools, education centers, and traveling exhibits. If you need a prefab modular building, our metal-framed tensioned structures are the most cost-effective option available.
Tensile structures are a lightweight and elegant addition to existing buildings, and can function as canopies, skylights, sheltered walkways, shaded areas, or atrium roofing.

Tensile Structure

Is it possible to create any shape?

As mentioned earlier, tensile fabric structures are constructed using two fundamental building blocks of tensile structures. However, this doesn't mean that they lack versatility. The beauty of tensile fabric structures lies in their ability to be tailored to meet specific requirements.
Each canopy is designed using the principles and curves of either the Saddle or the Cone, or a combination of both. The Saddle is a hyperbolic paraboloid surface, which consists of two high points and two low points. The surface's geometry is either orthogonal or formed by distorting a rectangular grid.
The Cone, on the other hand, resembles a volcano shape, and its surfaces are created using a radial geometry constructed from radians and hoops. These two forms can be combined in various ways to produce an endless number of variations, much like classical architecture's circle and square.

What types of fabrics are utilized?

All fabrics have the ability to stretch when pulled in opposing directions to create tension. However, certain fabrics possess unique characteristics. Currently, there are four types of fabrics commonly used for tensile fabric structures:

PVC Coated Polyester Fabric: This cost-effective fabric has a lifespan of 10 to 20 years and has been utilized in numerous applications worldwide for over four decades. It's easy to move, making it suitable for temporary building applications. PVC meets the Fire Code B.S 7837.
PTFE Coated Glass Fabric (for permanent structures only): With a lifespan of 30 years, this fabric is entirely inert and doesn't degrade under ultraviolet rays. It's considered non-combustible by most building codes. PTFE meets the Fire Code B.S 476 Class 0.
ETFE Foils (for permanent structures only):This fabric is used in inflated pillow structures where thermal properties are crucial. The foil can be either transparent or fritted, similar to laminated glass products, allowing for varying degrees of translucency.
PVC Glass Fabrics: This material is used for internal tensile sails, such as features in atriums and glare control systems, with minimal maintenance requirements. PVC glass fabrics comply with the Fire Code B.S 476 Class 0.

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Is it environmentally sustainable to use tensile structures?

Tensile structures can be environmentally sustainable if they are designed, constructed, and maintained with sustainability principles in mind. Tensile structures are lightweight and use minimal materials compared to traditional structures, which can reduce the carbon footprint associated with the production and transportation of construction materials. Additionally, tensile structures can allow for natural light and ventilation, reducing the need for artificial lighting and air conditioning, which can help to reduce energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the sustainability of a tensile structure also depends on the materials used in its construction. If the materials used are not sustainably sourced or have a high embodied energy, it can diminish the environmental benefits of the structure.
Furthermore, the lifespan of a tensile structure can impact its sustainability. A well-maintained tensile structure can last for decades, but if not properly maintained, it may need to be replaced sooner than expected, resulting in additional environmental impacts.
Overall, tensile structures can be environmentally sustainable if they are designed, constructed, and maintained with sustainability in mind, and if the materials used are responsibly sourced and have low embodied energy.


Tensile structures can vary widely in cost depending on several factors such as:

Size and Complexity: The larger and more complex the structure, the higher the cost.
Material: The type and quality of the material used for the tensile structure can have a significant impact on the cost. High-quality, durable materials such as PTFE-coated fiberglass or ETFE film can be more expensive than traditional materials like PVC-coated polyester.
Design and Engineering: The cost of design and engineering will depend on the complexity of the project and the experience and expertise of the designer and engineer.
Installation and Labor: The cost of installation and labor will depend on the size and complexity of the project, as well as the location and accessibility of the site.
Generally speaking, a small, simple tensile structure could cost a few thousand dollars, while a large, complex structure could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. It's essential to work with an experienced and reputable tensile structure company to ensure you get a fair and accurate quote for your project.

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