Sustainable Fabric Structures and Material Choices

Architects, engineers and designers are constantly researchingNH7.12.08 010LR environmentally friendly materials and how to use those materials on their projects but when it comes to fabric structures, how can you be sustainable?

Architectural Fabric Structures have been in use since first introduced by Frei Otto in the early 1960’s for temporary expositions. The major benefits were its minimal impact on the environment and its ability to enclose large spaces with lightweight material. Essentially, these early structures were fine examples of Sustainable Design. Over time, as fabric became more acceptable as a durable building material, lightweight tensile structures were used for permanent applications in such places as retail malls, airports, and sports facilities to name a few. Today’s membranes are more durable because of coatings applied to them to handle mold, mildew and harmful UV rays. However, some of these coatings are not the most environmentally friendly.

When it comes to materials and fabric structures, designers look to the three basic components: the structural members, the membrane and the perimeter tensioning system.

The structural system is primarily made of steel but aluminum and wood are being considered more often. These materials all have many recyclable attributes and can be specified to be manufactured locally to the site. The most important factor in looking to be more sustainable with the structural members is in documenting your work. Saying something is recyclable and having the certified documents to prove it are two different things. It is hard to go back to the origins of the material if you intend to go for a LEED certification or need it for rebates and tax cuts.

The perimeter tensioning system which includes tie downs and catenaries can be made with webbing belts, ropes of different compositions or wire rope depending on the load imposed on the structure both of which are high in recycled content.

The membrane can come from all over the world and fabrication shops varying depending on the material chosen. You can get material with a very short life span of 2-5 years or one with 20 to 30 years of life and some are more environmentally friendly than ever before.

There is an urgent need for new and improved recyclable materials for tension fabric structures with greater tensile strength, higher light translucency, and better insulation properties.

The key to material choices is finding the right material for your application. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who specializes in tension fabric structures.

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