Inverted, Interiors and Installations: That’s my Fabric Structure

How many times have you heard the expression, “there is no “I” in TEAM”.  How true when in comes to fabric structures.  FabricArchitect is talking Letter “I” today:

  • Inverted (umbrellas)
  • Interior Applications
  • Installations

Inverted Umbrellas

I will never forget the first time I saw an inverted umbrella. I was at RPI writing my thesis on fabric structures in the mid 80’s when I saw these cool “upside” umbrellas Frei Otto had designed for a concert tour in one of his IL books. These structures folded like an umbrella but when you opened them, wow…A Tulip shaped membrane that created a unique shape and had the ability to collect water…how sustainable in the 1970’s!

I next saw them at an American Institute of Architects (AIA) show where a scaled but workable model of a retractable inverted umbrella designed by one of Otto’s disciples, Bodo Rasch, was being displayed by the folks at Gore, makers of the Tenara PTFE (now sold by Sefar).

The idea is simple. Take the most common form of the umbrella, and turn it upside down. You can design them as a multitude of singular structures or have the membrane be made in one piece. You can have them made permanent or collapsible. The idea of collecting water from a fabric structure is becoming more common and by collecting all the water into a cistern or catch basin, there are a number of things you can do with the water.

Interior Applications

I had the pleasure of meeting Artist Bill Moss , the creator of the “pop up” tent during my studies and got to see first hand the “new” fabric structures being created for tents and tradeshows which are now common throught the entire industry. I also met folks like Cyndi Thompson from Transformit and Debra Roth of Pink Inc. along the way who are taking this kind of work to the next level. Building interior fabric structures seems very easy but they are not. Unlike Tensioned Membrane Structures, theses are sometimes created as full scale mockups and require an understanding of existing interior and exterior building conditions for proper design, planning and installation.

If you want to look at materials for interior application, look no further than the industrial fabric industry and Theatrical Drapery. There are lightweight PTFE materials used for ceilings in dome stadiums, PVC fabrics are used for interior tensioned fabric sculptures while theatrical drapery materials from companies like Rosebrand and Dazian are used for a softer look. Spandex/Lycra is another common material used for transforming temporary and permanent spaces but require the material be fire treated prior to fabrication. Interior fabric structures too come in single or multiple units or can be made into one large membrane.


It is so easy to overlook the installation when it comes to fabric structures. They look so nice on paper and the final completion can be a priceless experience, but you would never get there if you didn’t know or understand how the structure is erected or tensioned or made safe to walk under. The most important thing for you to know is to understand the erection procedure or “means and method”. Make sure you ask you designer, engineer, fabricator and installation team to go over how they intend to put up your fabric structure. You do not want surprises.

Check this video out of how to build a new fabric structure roof at .

For more info on Stadium roofs, visit, Fabritec.

Next comes “J”


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