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Tensile Architectural Structures

1. Are tensile architectural structures expensive?

A1. No! In comparison with alternative translucent construction roofing systems, such as glass, tensile membrane structures are ‘on average’ half the cost. The cost savings are not only provided by rapid installation properties, but also by the reduction in cost of frame fabrication – reducing both installation and construction material costs.

2. What construction codes do you follow?

A2. Each structure we design has to comply with European Tensile Structure Guidelines. They also have to adhere to the British Standard Codes for wind and snow loading (BS 6399 parts 2 & 3). This requires that each structure we design undergoes a myriad of engineering calculations and data analysis to prove the constructions safety loadings. These calculations and engineering analyses are then correlated against the geographical data of where the structure is to be installed. The resulting build data enables us to design, build and install in compliance with the above UK and European construction codes. Fully signed off paperwork is provided to verify the above.

So you are aware – You may find that not all competitor offerings undergo this process, meaning a sail fabric shade structure might not be suitable for certain weather conditions or geographical locations. It is vitally important that you state the full intended ‘year round’ use of your structure and installation location at the very outset to avoid both practicality and health & safety issues.

3. What services do you provide?

A3. At Shade Sculpture we are able to provide a full ‘turnkey’ solution service, from architectural design and engineering calculations, through to project management manufacture, installation and maintenance. Depending upon your requirements we can provide as much or as little as you need. For instance some clients may only require our expertise in engineering calculations, whilst others may specifically require our manufacturing or installation services. Our service options provided are up to the individual client’s needs.

4. Are tensile membrane structures vandal proof?

A4. The short answer is no. However, we automatically take into consideration vandalism aspects in to the design and construction of our structures’, to minimise access and damage that could be caused. Whereas structures are to be erected in vulnerable locations, the designing process may be pushed towards easily replaceable panel construction. This allows patch or panel replacement repairs to be carried out on site should the membrane be slashed.

5. What is the lifespan of tensile membrane structure?

A5. This really depends on your budget, the design and what materials are used in the construction. Fabrics such as PVC and PTFE have a lifespan of anything between 5-30 years, with silicone coated glass fibre fabric and ETFE’s having between 20-50 years. The budget you put towards the fabric determines its grade, properties and overall lifespan. To try and be more competitive, a lot of companies will look to use cheaper fabrics – shorting the structures lifespan. It is vitally important that when you look at competitive costs you ensure that you are comparing like with like.

Additionally to this, maintenance also plays a large part of the structures lifespan. Regular maintenance and cleaning of your structure not only maintains its appearance, but also helps increase its operational lifespan.

6. How often should I clean a tensile membrane structure?

A6. This depends upon the structures location and locality pollutants. However, cleaning is far less intensive or problematic than you may think. Generally an annual wash down with mild soapy water and a soft brush will be sufficient. With structures erected within city centres or near busy roads, dirt and grime can accumulate fast, requiring a six-monthly cleansing. It is important that particular attention is paid towards the removal of leaf debris, as the accumulation can cause unsightly discolouration to the structures fabric. Depending upon location and structural design will determine what access or lift equipment is required to safely carry out cleaning. For most membrane fabrics, a programmed cleaning and maintenance regime is required for warranty cover.

7. Where are tensile membrane structures used?

A7. Everywhere and anywhere! Tensile membrane structures are used for the roofs of stadiums, shopping centre entrances and walkways, shading of commercial offices and hotels, bar and restaurant canopies, weather protection for schools and colleges, residential housing, garden design, car park roofing, building interiors, retail outlets, and even for artistic installations; the list is endless. Wherever construction is put forward, tensile membrane structures can be used to improve and enhance the project whilst reducing costs.

Fabric Event Structures

1. Are air inflated fabric event structures expensive?

A1. In comparison with traditional event structures, air inflated fabric structures not only look more impressive but are less than half the cost for the same space and volume. They are also easier to transport and install. However, for many people an inflated structure is likened to mass produced inflatable swimming pools or beach inflatable’s bought on any high street corner; therefore are automatically thought to be cheaper than reality. Air inflated fabric event structures are as far removed from these as can be. Air inflated fabric event structures have to comply with stringent building codes and are required to adhere to European tensile structure design guides. This dramatically increases the engineering requirements, manufacturing processes and the cost of fabrics used. They can also only be designed and engineered by architects specialised in tensile membrane structures. Construction is also a specialised field.

2. Can an air inflated event structure be branded?

A2. All air inflated event structures can be branded or colour coded towards a client’s specific company, organisation or product. Depending upon requirements they can be bannered, digitally printed or heat sublimation transfer printed. It should be noted that certain fabric colours and branding options will increase production costs.

3. What is the lifespan of an inflated fabric event structure?

A3. This depends on the design, what construction materials are used and operational usage. Fabrics such as PVC and polyester are more durable than nylon, providing generally longer lifespan. Also, what grade of material is used determines the structures operational lifespan. Additionally to this, the way the structure is looked after during installation and when packed impacts dramatically on the structures longevity. A structure should never be packed whilst damp or wet. If looked after correctly and in accordance to operational instructions, a PVC structure can last for 10-15 years, whilst a polyester or rip stop nylon structures will last up to 5-years – again depending upon usage and frequency.

4. How should I clean an air inflated fabric structure?

A4. As these structures are required to be manufactured using relatively delicate / thin membrane fabrics ‘compared to solid event structures’, cleaning should be carried out with this in mind. For PVC structures a low powered jet wash or a soft brush and mild soapy water can be used. For nylon or polyester based structures the process can be the same – however, the low powered jet wash must be at least 5ft from the fabric to prevent damaging. Always start the jet wash pointed away from the structure as the first output will be high pressured before cutting back. For best results and less risk of damage the structure should to be inflated.

Always ensure that the structure is laid out and fully air dried before packing away. Damp fabrics decay at a faster rate than that of dry fabrics; they also attract mould and mildew, discolouring the structure.

5. What construction should I be looking for?

A5. Many people do not realise that an air inflated fabric event structure has to comply with building codes and local authority health & safety – it is a legal requirement. Each structure we design complies with European Tensile Structure Guidelines. They are also designed to adhere to the British Standard Codes for wind and snow loading (BS 6399 parts 2 & 3) – this is the same as with tensile membrane structures. This requires that each structure undergoes a myriad of engineering calculations and data stress analysis to prove the constructions safety loadings. These calculations and engineering analyses are correlated to produce wind speed tolerances under which the structure must be operated. In the UK most authorities require that an event structure follows similar wind load tolerances as a marquee. Accepted tolerances depends upon regional authorities requirements. This can be anything from 40mph – 52mph.

On top of this you should also be looking for certification of the structures fire retardant properties. This is also a legal requirement.

You should be aware – Most competitor offerings may come from Asia and may not have been engineered to adhere to such engineering or safety requirements. Unapproved or unwarranted engineering documentation could invalidate your public liability insurance.

Tension Membrane Buildings

1. What are the benefits of a tension membrane building?

A1. There are many benefits of a tension membrane building which can make them a better option than traditional structures. For instance, due to the opaque properties of the membrane covering, natural light floods from above, removing the need for lighting during the day. Additionally, fabric wrapped buildings can provide improved U- values over and above traditional buildings. Just these two benefits dramatically reduce the operational running costs of a tensile membrane building. Other significant benefits include:

  • Reduced Planning Requirements – As the structures are classified as temporary buildings.
  • Clear Span Construction – Meaning maximum usage of the installation footprint.
  • Rapid Erecting & Installation. – Reducing construction traffic and time on site.
  • Upfront cost efficiency. – Tensile Membrane Buildings are 40-60% less expensive than traditional construction methods.
  • Environmentally Sound. – Less materials during construction.
  • Re-locatable. – Due to their construction method, fabric buildings can be relocated to other sites if and when required.

2. Do I need planning permission for a temporary tensile fabric building?

A2. The short answer is yes………….you still need to gain approvals from your local planning department before erecting a temporary fabric building. However, due to their semi-permanent / temporary nature, local planners are less likely to object to such installations. Additionally, the planning process is less complicated meaning approvals are granted relatively quickly. Please note, local authorities can differ approaches, therefore we always recommend contact prior to proceeding. At Shade Sculpture Limited we also provide planning application assistance if required.

3. What is the lifespan of a tensile membrane building?

A3. Realistically the answer is as long as you want it to be. Being an aluminium or steel frame constriction the only consideration is the membrane fabric itself.

Depending which membrane fabric is used to wrap the structure depends on how long it will last before the need to replace. For instance low grade Polyethylene fabrics, which are often used by the cheap end of the market to keep cost to a minimum, only have a 3-5 year life expectancy; whilst a type III tensile membrane fabric that is lacquered can have a lifespan up to 30-Years.

Be Aware – You should always know what the membranes lifespan is before choosing whom to purchase from. Simply asking for a type of fabric does not guarantee its lifespan. We have seen several tensile structures that have been clad with ‘what is supposed to be a good quality fabric’ only to need replacing with 5-years. This is because cheap imported fabrics are being used – fabrics which look the same but are not the same. At Shade Sculpture we only use European fabrics which come with a guaranteed lifespan – backed by certification from the supplying fabrics manufacturer.

4. What design options are available for a fabric wrapped building?

A4. There are relatively endless design options available when it comes to membrane engineered buildings. Being a full design and tensile engineering company, we can pretty much provide designs based upon customer requirements. As a company we can design and engineer Sports Halls to Sport England specifications, Aircraft hangers, Commercial office, Warehouses, Agricultural Barns and many more. The only real restrictions are on the budget requirements.

5. Are fabric membrane buildings expensive?

A5. Fabric Membrane Buildings are on average 40% – 60% less expensive than a traditional building occupying a similar foot print. As with any building, costs can increase or decrease depending upon specifications. This makes Fabric Membrane Buildings one of the most cost effective temporary or permanent constructions around. Cost again can be adjusted based upon design requirements and purpose of the building itself.