Fabric Architect Class begins Today: A to Z

Learn and understand the basics of Fabric Structures.

I thought I would start 2011 by taking a step back and giving you the things you need to know about Fabric Structures from A to Z.

Today, I am going to start with the letter A.

  • Awnings
  • Anchors
  • Amphitheaters


Awnings are lightweight fabric structures made of  acrylic, cotton or polyester, just to name a few. It is stretched over a frame made of wood, steel or aluminum. Most awning forms are made in traditional architectural shapes such as a simple gable, shed or barrel vault. However they can come in all shapes and sizes too. Awnings are still made the old fashion way by sewing panels of material together but they are also “RF welded” together or “stapled” on a frame. Personally, I like the “steelstitch” or staple system awning systems. Its clean, attractive and cost effective.

Today, in addition to providing protection from the elements and reducing direct solar heat gain on a building, awnings are mini billboards and branding opportunities for any one who choses to take advantage of this product. They can increase the amount of your living, working and selling  space and can transform your space and give it new life.

Extend your entrance, Expand your dining area, create shelter for your employees or patrons. Doing more with less.

Want to be sustainable?

Ask for Sustainable materials or go retractable (Open and close and you wish).


Fabric Structures are anchored in a number of ways: Either with a concrete footing or to a structural steel plate attached to a building. When you are designing a custom fabric structure, it is common to have reactions or loads provided by the Engineer or fabricator in order to properly size and build the anchors. Some loads on fabric structures are in tension only and that allows one to consider another type of foundation or anchor.  That type of anchor comes in the form of “earth” anchors. In simple terms, that’s using the earth to support your fabric structure. You can put stakes in the ground like tent companies do for easy removal and temporary structures, but for larger and more custom applications, earth anchors can be cost effective and sustainable.

The anchors are driven with conventional hydraulic equipment similar to what you might see a Utility company use for installing communication lines. Once driven to the proper depth, the rod/tendon attached to the anchor is pulled to rotate the anchor into undisturbed soil – like a toggle bolt. The anchor is pulled upon to reach the holding capacity required and has very little impact on the existing soil. My preference? Manta Rays.

Another type is an” helical auger stake” which I see more for small and medium size structures. They work much like a wine cork opener in which you screw a plate and rod into the ground and do the same test for holding capacity. What’s nice about these is that they have minimal soil disturbance. I like the augers from A.B. Chance.


All this talk about Awnings and Anchors makes me want to design!

An amphitheatre or amphitheater is an open-air venue used for entertainment and performances. Modern amphitheatres feature a theatrical style stage with the audience only on one side, usually at an arc of less than a semicircle. They are typically man-made, though there are also  natural amphitheatres using the existing slope of the land. Open air venues are nice but there is increasing need to have these performance facilities covered.


1. The Show must go on and a little rain or too much sun shouldn’t cancel an event. Fabric Structures can cover the performers, the audience or both. Most major city’s have incorporated a covered amphitheater as part of their city scape. Don’ Believe me? See Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Miami, Charlottesville. Need more proof? I got more.

2. Skin Cancer. Too much sun can be bad for both performer and audience. Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the nation. Research indicates that most people receive as much as 80 percent of their total lifetime sun exposure during their first 18 years. One severe sunburn during childhood may double the risk of developing melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer, later in life. Being exposed to the sun for a 1-3 hour event could be quite dangerous.

3. Acoustics.  Covered or uncovered, there are so many forms of entertainers and they all have different needs. Some use amplified sounds, others use none at all. The design of a covered amphitheater needs to be able to adapt to a number of different sounds. If you are looking at covering an amphitheater, make sure you bring on an acoustical consultants with you. I like JaffeHolden.

Ampthitheaters, like all fabric structures, come in all shapes and sizes AND Costs. Don’t think you can’t afford one until you do your research. You may only need a bandshell (I’ll tell you more about them when we get to the B’s).

Got an idea for your town to build new or transform an existing amphitheater?

Let’s do it.


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