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June 27, 2016

Inspirational Tensile Structures and the Movement of the Future.

Frei Otto – Roofing for the main sports facility in the Munich Olympic park for the 1972 summer Olympics

Tensile Architecture’s most prominent architect is most likely Frei Otto, whose works are seen and recognised throughout the world.  Frei’s interest in light weight deconstructable architecture first began when he was a prisoner of war during WW2, as a response to the extreme weather conditions he was living in as a means to protect himself and his fellow soldiers.  From this nightmare was birthed an award winning architect focused on creating structures which counteracted the Third Reich’s solid and monumental architecture.  His lightweight designs were often based on mathematical patterns found in nature.

Courtesy of Richard Rodgers Architects

The Millennium Dome/The O2

The Millennium Dome, which although originally was an embarrassment and monetary black hole commissioned by the conservative party and built by the labour government, it managed to shed this image when it was transformed into a massive music venue, which now draws some of the biggest musical acts in the business.  Designed by architect Richard Rogers, the dome is one the largest of its kind in the world.  Residing in Greenwich, the dome is designed to represent a clock face – it is 365m in circumference, 52m in diameter, there are 24 scallops around the exterior and 12 supporting beams.

Courtesy of Foster + Partners Architects

The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre – the world’s tallest tensile structure.

Designed by UK architects Foster + Partners, standing at 150 metres tall the Khan Shatyr Entertainment centre is the tallest tensile structure in the world.  The structure, which is made up of three layer ETFE cushions, provides a haven to Kazakhstan’s extreme climate, where temperatures range between a freezing -35 in the winter and a searing 35 degrees in the summer.  The cable net structure covers a mighty 100,000 square feet, enclosing restaurants, cafes, cinemas, retail and leisure activities as well as flexible spaces for exhibitions and events.

The Serpentine Gallery

Designed by the late, great Zaha Hadid, The Serpentine Gallery is a glass fibre tensile structure which appears to flow outwards from the brick building of the original gallery.  Supported inside by five tapered steel columns, with sky lights circling the top of them, the structure also features inbuilt furniture which reflect the curves of the building.  The structure is the firms first permanent tensile structure in the UK.

The future of tensile design and metal mesh facades.

The future of tensile design appears to moving away from fabric architecture and more towards ETFE and mesh facades.  Two examples of this are BIG and Heatherwick’s design for the google campus and BIG’s remarkable design for the new Redskins stadium in Washington, which is probably the finest example of a metal mesh façade to date – the 60,000 seat stadium is to be wrapped in a golden metal mesh, whose fluid design and lines curve around the entrances and concessions.

The Google campus is set to be a multitude of translucent canopies that are designed to cover buildings and outdoor areas, which also control the climate and allowing natural daylight and ventilation throughout the facility.  BIG and Heatherwick are aiming to blur the lines between nature and structure, by creating an environment that houses shops, restaurants, owl habitats and widened creek beds.

Shade Sculpture have a wealth of experience in metal mesh facades.  We are currently working on a number of projects that are responding to this exciting new design movement.  Due to our extensive background and knowledge in this area, we are ideally placed to advise and build metal mesh designs.  For more information on metal mesh facades please contact Philly on