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May 13, 2015

Future of Tensile Fabric Architecture

Understanding and guiding the Future of Tensile Fabric Architecture is probably the most crucial aspect of any Tensile Structure Architectural practice. For decades architects and design technicians have been pushing the boundaries and capabilities of cable and membrane based architecture to deliver some truly amazing fabric buildings, roofs and structures. However, despite its enormous benefits and regardless of how stunning and ingenious these tensile fabric design solutions are, the architectural and buildings industry as a whole ‘is still as yet’ to fully embrace tensile fabric design as part of everyday construction…….so why is this still the case?

There are many theories to why tensile design and fabric structural solutions are not regularly used as part of everyday construction; however as industry insiders we know better than most as to why fabric architecture is not being used as much as it could be.

Whilst tensile fabric coverings in the UK have to be designed in accordance to The National Building Specification H90, and to the European Tensile Fabric Guidelines, there are too many unknown values and outdated ratings which products within the tensile fabric industry fall into. Without such standardisation, architects and construction project specifies tend to steer towards the comfort factor of materials and design elements which meet standardised conformity. For instance, Tensile Fabrics fire ratings can only be tested up to B1 ratings, which is a lower rating than materials such as glass are tested upon. However, fabrics such as ETFE have a significantly lower health and safety risk than that of glass, should the building or structure catch fire, yet ETFE fabrics cannot be tested under the same rating systems as glass. Such rating inconsistence cause problems for architects and specifies looking to comply with building code regulations. This means tensile fabric design is often overlooked due to its lack of conformity – which actually couldn’t be further from the truth!


Modular Tensile Fabric Architecture

Another main reason as to why Tensile Fabric Architecture and its design solutions are often side-lined in favour of conventional offerings, is the ‘until now’ inability to provide standardisation, such as Modular Tensile Fabric Architecture brings. Offering a modularised approach to tensile architecture not only provides a form of understanding and comfort factor to the construction industry, but also a known quantity in regards to engineering’s, ratings and budget to the design process. Shade Sculpture’s management are already utilising this approach and have worked on several modular based projects with great success.

For instance, the image below is that of the Bergwacht Bayern Mountain Rescue Training Centre in Germany. This building utilises a single skin ETFE foil membrane modular panel design to replace the need for glass. Each panel arrived to site, pre-stressed and tensioned awaiting installation; rather like a Meccano kit form. With the initial steel frame works already erected, the installation of the ETFE modular panels took only two days to complete. And that was with just two installation engineers. With the tensile fabric panels being manufactured off site and designed to be lightweight and manageable, installation was completed in a fraction of the time traditional construction would have taken. Installation costs were also slashed with the modular approach.

Construction Codes – Modular Tensile Architecture

Another building our management have worked on utilising this approach is the Miroiterie Flon Lausanne in Switzerland. Needing to surpass numerous building codes and extremely low Thermal-Values, each modular tensile panel was constructed with a four layer PTEF-coated glass fabric and ETFE membrane. Proprietary semi-translucent insulation system was also added to provide the lowest rating thermal value of any tensile fabric building. The resulting modular panels surpassed all construction code requirements.

Installation followed as similar pattern to that of the Bergwacht Bayern Mountain Rescue Training Centre. Ensuring the building was handed over on time and within budgets.

Future of Modular Tensile Architecture

The Future of Modular Tensile Architecture is an exciting one. With this approach to design and build, modern architecture and building design can be transformed with flexibility, design inspiration and cost efficiency. Imagine the possibilities of being able to re clad an entire office building, multi-story car park, shopping centre or even a block of high-rise tenant flats. Additionally, imagine having the ability to effortlessly remove a wall and bolt on an entirely new room, floor or even building. This is what the Future of Modular Tensile Architecture offers. It fact this is what it offers today!

With an in-depth knowledge of the modular approach to tensile architecture and, with successful projects already under our belt, the management of Shade Sculpture are best place to help our clients realise the potential of this innovative approach to design, build and architecture.

To find out more or to discuss specific project requirement, please call us on +44 (0)1249 848649, or email us on