Category Archives: Fabric Structures

Now which umbrella do you want to be under?

umbrellas againHave you ever been under a fabric structure?
I’m sure you have.
If you had your choice of being under a small umbrella or a big one, which would you choose?

Fabric Structures come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes it makes more sense to build one big one than a few small ones but somestimes an umbrella within an umbrella helps in giving a sense of scale to a place.

One size doesn’t fit all.

Meet you at the Fabric Structure

Sea Lion Sound St Louis ZooCan you find the fabric structure in this picture?
Of course you can.
Its white.
Its stands out.
It makes you smile.

Fabric Structures come in all shapes and sizes and one thing it does do, is make you look.

Maybe because it reminds you of a circus tent or party tent you were once in.

Or maybe because it doesn’t look like everything else.

Or maybe its hot or raining and you need some shelter.

Meet me under the fabric structure.

Lightweight Architecture: What makes people want to go to a Tent Sale?

car_dealershipIts warming up in the Northeast (USA) so that means garden centers, outdoor restaurant seating and tent sales are opening up everywhere.

Tent Sale?

I went online to see if I could learn about the history of the “tent sale”. No such luck. Who came up with that idea? It seems like a couple of times a year stores, especially car dealerships, set up tents in their parking lots to sell more products, offer discounts and extend their selling space. The tents are erected to attract customer, cover products and people from inclement weather and they’re just fun.

But why only a couple of times a year?

Classic_HUMMER_Grapevine_Texas_300dpiIf you plan properly, you can design and build a lightweight fabric structure that provide shade, signage and shelter all year-long.

Shade is good.

Shade Structures protect people from harmful UV rays and keeps things cool.


Everyone knows when the circus is in town. You can get a really cool fabric structure built that  everybody will remember or use as a meeting point or for directions.


Frosken1You can use a fabric structure for a variety of purposes. Use it for special events, employee lounge, clearance sales, outdoor eating, job fairs, fashion shows, demonstrations, the sky’ the limit.

Another Inconvienent Truth

article-2225557-15C4AFDA000005DC-914_964x641No, this is not a sequel to Al Gore’s documentary on global warming. It’s about the difficulties of traveling from one place to another. Travel has become a nightmare and its only getting worse.

The latest terrorist attacks and added security in transportation is making travel a difficult chore. There are many complaints but few viable solutions. Each city and place has experienced different kinds of congestions so there is not one universal solution.

However, there is hope. The beauty of building light or using lightweight structures is that one can test ideas and transform a space, place or concept very quickly. Its OK to fail but its OK  to succeed too!

MDT Typ S - 04Pedestrian traffic is tight. In cities, the sidewalks are not big enough any more. Stores are taking over the front. Newspaper stands and kiosk are taking over the sidewalk. Traffic poles, curb cuts and parking meters add to the clutter. Density is not all that bad.

How about closing some streets to vehicle traffic and giving the street back to the city walker? How about a street lined with public tables chairs and umbrellas. It’s already working in some cities. How about trying it more often and in more places?

859Auto traffic is at a stand still too. What city doesn’t experience rush hour traffic? Main Street roads are getting wider. Highways look like runways. They all seem to be designed for todays traffic with no plans for the future. It’s all not that bad, Ezpass and prepaid devices make life a little better but there will some day be no free rides with even more cars on the road. Another issue for all the traffic jams is the weather. Did you know that many traffic accidents are caused by sun glare, wind gust, hail and snow?

How about some shade structures (natural or artificial) installed over some prominent street for reducing traffic emergencies. How about fabric “visors” across highways that would reduce sun glare or extending tunnels with “vestibules” to reduce the amount of snow or water that clogs up an entrance.

selector12Train, Light rain and Bus traffic is suppose to reduce congestion and get people out of their cars. Have you been on a mass transit system recently? They are packed. They are adding cars so you have to walk a long distance to the exit of your choice. Bus stops are not big enough to handle rush hour lines and don’t protect people once they get off.

Imagine walking out of your home and into your car, then to a covered parking garage at a station in which you walk protected by the elements to your bus or train and then to your office without getting wet! That’s a commute!

Pink_Arch_05_sizedAir Traffic control or out of control? Flying has become the longest commute. Besides not having reasonably priced non stop airfare, there is the constant need for connections and the constant delays. The airplane experience has not improved since 9.11.

Imagine a trip like this: Getting to the airport, free valet parking, walking into the terminal with your ticket and luggage and walking thru a tunnel that consist of equipment that checks you better than the existing security service. You then walk straight into the plane and your luggage is taken and stored for you. No more Platinum members and elite status. Everyone is treated alike. I know…who pays for this.

Imagine. Smart Phones to Smart streets, to Smart roads, to Smart highways, to Smart rails to Smart terminals to Smart planes to Smart space.

It starts with Smart people and the Earth has plenty of them.

Why Fabric?

What is. A place is too hot for children, parents…everybody. You can put sunblock on but the playground is hot, the bleachers are hot, even your car is hot when you get back in it.

Warnick DaycareWhat could be. A place that is shaded and protecting people from harmful UV rays. A shade structure over a playground that shades both children and parents. A sports field with covered bleachers. Your car in a cover parking spot.

What is. Playing in a space with artificial lighting because the roof is made of a material which does not allow natural daylight.

FF.Tennis ETFEWhat could be. Playing in a space with a roof made of a transucent membrane that allows natural daylight and eliminates the need for high utility bills. A roof that reflects the heat.

What is. A blank wall surface that lacks architecture yet its face offers so much potential.

TF.Textile Facade ExampleWhat could be. Imagine a bland parking garage transformed into an aesthetically pleasing textile facade. Image the side of your building which is exposed to so many people is all of a sudden a billboard for advertising or branding your company.

What is. A special event is cancelled due to the weather. The band is protected by the audience isn’t. How many rain outs can you afford.

DSC_0076_edited-1What could be. A structure that says “Come and Visit” and the show must go on. Seating in shade at a premium price. Rescheduling is minimized.

What is. A trend is now a requirement. To be “sustainable”, one must look at recyclable materials, designed to reduce the carbon footprint and reduce the amount of energy required to have human comfort.

Rosa Parks Transit CenterWhat could be. Fabric Structures as exterior shading devices. Fabric Structures using materials that are recyclable or have little impact in our landfills. Fabric Structures which do not take much energy to manufacture or install. Fabric Structures that not only provide shade but collect water too.

Why not Fabric?

Green Fabric Architecture

TF.sun shades 002I’ve been involved in the fabric structure industry since 1985 when I came upon an issue of Progressive Architecture featuring white tension fabric structures made of Teflon coated fiberglass. The Haj Terminal in Saudi Arabia was on the cover of construction magazines all over the world and the idea of creating “modern tents” for the modern nomad was on the horizon. The terminal was designed to produce natural ventilation and protect millions of passengers from the hot desert climate.Lightweight structures was hot.

Twenty five plus years later, these unique structures continue to be seen around the world . Fabric Structures, retractable fabric roofs, ETFE “transparent” structures and textile facades are now quite common and on many drawing boards as the solution for shade, signage and shelter.

Today, “Sustainability” and “Being Green” are the key words in the building industry. Only a couple of years ago, “Green” Design and Construction approached Sustainability as “doing the right thing.” Today, the client and market are demanding all things be “Green”.

How do fabric structures fit?

Fabric Structures are the original “sustainable” roof. The design and membrane are adaptable to its environment. The membrane can be retractable, it can be designed to increase air movement, it can reflect the sun’s rays and reduce the amount of energy needed to provide human comfort in a building. It reduces heat island effect and is made with materials that are recyclable.

Fabric structures are not all about dome stadiums and large airports. They come in all shapes and sizes and they are used in educational, healthcare, assisted living, commercial, institutional, parks, retail, and industrial facilities, just to name a few.

Being under a shade structures or sitting under a fabric structure to eat, watch a sport or relax is priceless.

Go Green Fabric Structures.

“W” Fabric Structures

The FabricArchitect look at Fabric Structures from A to Z is coming to a close and we are now on the letter “W”.
The words that come to mind are:

Wedding Tent
Wind Load


Fabric Structures, because of their “sail-like” qualities and components, always seem to work well along waterfront properties. The key to doing waterfront structures is in the finishes. Paint finishes need to be of the highest grade. Cables and hardware should be stainless steel or galvanized with a plan to service and prevent them from rust or corrosion. The membrane should have the best topcoat.

Wedding Tent

The wedding tent has been around as long as weddings have. There is something about an outdoor wedding with some fabric shade or shelter that people still want for their special day. Rental companies have made a living creating these “outdoor rooms” and some enclosed facilities cover outdoor patio areas so people can have the best of both worlds.

Wind Loads

A very common question asked by clients is if it can take “our wind”. Waterfront, Hurricaine zone, rooftop, etc. No two locations are alike and that’s why when you are looking for a custom designed tension fabric structure,  you want to make sure the designer, engineer or fabricator is going to do a structural analysis and take into consideration the local and site wind loads. Wind loads vary from 50 to over 150 mph in some locations. Results from a wind load test can effect the size of your structural system, the size of your foundations and even the membrane you use. Pre-engineered structures are tested for specific wind loads. Make sure the product you are getting will satisfy your building department or have it modified to meet local code.

Got any ideas for “x”, “y” and “z”? Let me know.

Fabric Structure V’s

We are getting down to the last few letters and The FabricArchitect still has words to use. When it comes to the letter “V”, the words that come to mind are:

  • Valley Cable
  • Verseidag Fabric
  • Velodrome

Valley Cables

Valley cables are pretty self explanatory but often misunderstood, poorly detailed or installed incorrectly. These cables are used to “keep down” the membrane from uplift forces on a structure.

Usually associated with “folded plate” style forms, they are normally constructed with a coated “jacket” on them because they are sitting on top of the membrane. They are sometime covered yet again after they are installed or left exposed to the elements. The end fittings require them to have some adjustment to them otherwise they have a tendency to flutter if not properly tensioned.

Verseidag Fabric

Verseidag is a manufacturer of membrane material located in Germany. They are one of the few companies worldwide that offer both PTFE and PVC fabrics. Duraskin is the brand name they go by for architectural membranes.


One of the more interesting and growing sports is the sport of bicycle or track racing. A Velodrome is an arena for Track racing.

Velodromes may be indoors or outdoors. Indoor tracks are not affected by weather and are more comfortable for spectators (i.e. see London 2012 Olympics). They ride smoother and last longer.

Despite the advantages of indoor tracks, outdoor velodromes are more common. However, there is more interest and fabric seems the be the material of choice for these venues.

“W” is next.

Fabric Structures and “U”

The FabricArchitect has been writing all year about Fabric Structures from A-Z. Today I am going to talk about the letter “U”. There is no finer example of the letter “U” than the umbrella. The umbrella is universally understood and it comes in all sizes and materials. The shape of the umbrella has been tested but there is no challenging the classic shape which uses minimum surfaces and patterns. Some umbrellas are retractable, some are permanent. Some are quite small and simple, some are quite big and complex. Some collect water, while others do not. Hard to go thru life without experiencing an umbrella.

Umbrella (small)

Love TUUCI and MDT-Tex umbrellas. Beautiful umbrellas that can be seen at home, cafe, resort, etc.


Umbrella (Medium)

Love fully engineered structures from the likes of Fabritec, Birdair and Fabric Architecture. These structures are engineered to local code and built to last.

Umbrella (Large)

Large umbrellas offer the most covereage and provide the most dramatic spaces.  With custom peaks and edge conditions, these structures provide shade and shelter for a versatile space.

On to “V”

Temporary Fabric Structures is the New Permanent

Unless you were hiding under a rock this past month, The Olympics in London showcased great examples of the future of Architecture, Special Event Planning and Olympic Design and what you can do with the letter “T”:

Temporary Structures
Architecture is going Temporary. It’s cost effective, it’s now and it’s wow. The London Olympic stadium is “relocatable”!? That’s right. Today, you can design, build, take down and reuse a stadium. That’s sustainable!

We’re not talking about your typical “tent” any more. The present and future of tents combines lightweight structures with durable fabrics to make “tent cities” hospitality suites, sport venues, the sky’s the limit. It doesn’t have to be this organic structure with high tensile loads. It just has to be beautiful and useful.

The wire rope cable is a common component of the New Architecture. Curtain walls, handrails and roofs, etc. High wire acts of London can be seen at the Eye, at the O2, at the roof and facade of the stadium, at the Emirates cable cars crossing the Docklands. Some times Tension is a good thing.

I’m heading to London to see it first hand. I read somewhere that in preparing for their Olympic presentation, the London Olympic committee was not looking to create another iconic building. “There is plenty of history of forms of architecture to see there already”.

Fabric Structures provide a permanent experience of a temporary moment.

Experience Fabric Architecture.

See “U” later.