Fabric Structures means Future Structures

By Sam Armijos

Fabric architecture continues to evolve with advances in technology and materials and changing decorative and structural needs. Interior applications and textile facade projects have shown us that fabric structures need not always have double curvature and catenary edges.

We have also seen that fabrics can span greater distances than glass, and be supported by very light structural members. ETFE cushions can be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes, and provide innovative, cost-effective, and lightweight cladding solutions. ETFE foils are already being used as an alternative to structural glass in atriums, greenhouses, swimming pools and water park enclosures.

Pneumatic structures such as air halls, tennis bubbles and inflatables have a long history as forms created with the use of air. They continue to provide an economical and creative way to enclose large spaces. The idea of using air in combination with high-strength fabric has encouraged new design and engineering approaches for new building types. Air-inflated structures which erect themselves in to place, high-pressure air beams which can support snow loads, and air ships used for transport cargo are no longer only theoretical concepts.

Photovoltaic (PV) thin film technology has also shown promise on tensioned fabric structures. These thin films convert light energy into electrical energy. The use of PV technology on fabric structures is presently used in the military and its use in commercial applications will arrive sooner than later in areas needing shade, shelter and electricity.

Sustainability and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are big issues in architecture today and fabric structures are finding their place in projects requiring natural daylight, energy savings and reduced reliance on fossilized fuels. Multi layer fabric structures filled with a variety of materials to add thermal and acoustical benefits without losing natural daylight are being used in promising ways. Structures designed to collect water for reuse and made with sustainable products such as wood are very common now. Recycled PVC and fabrics with longer life spans are certainly steps in the right direction towards a “green” architecture.

I always say, “Less is More, Light is More, Fabric is even Better”.

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