Author Archives: Sam Armijos

Fabric Structures “n” Membranes

Fabric Structures consist of three major things: Structural system (steel, wood, concrete, etc.), edge component (cable, belt, rope, etc.) and fabric (too many to choose from).

To the right is FTL’s U.N. Annex Entry Canopy in NYC.

Today the FabricArchitect talks about “N” and there are a couple of N words that come to mind and they all have to do with fabric.

  • Naizil
  • Nanogel
  • NovaShield


Headquartered in Italy with offices in Canada, Naizil has been manufacturing PVC coated fabrics for truck tarpaulins, awnings, tension structures, digital printing and many other applications for over 50 years.

They have a couple of interesting products in the market for Fabric Structures.

Their Cover series of coated fabrics have been designed to meet the high quality standards required for tensile structures and large coverings. All “Cover” products are self-extinguishing and protected by  a PVDF sealable topcoat. They also offer an extra treatments such as ROTOFLUO P which is a non-sealable PVDF coating which makes it longer lasting.

They have another product called TITAN W  which has Titaniuim Oxide (TiO2)which represents the cutting-edge in the protection of PVC coated fabrics.

Compared with conventional topcoat systems present in the market, these new protective coatings are being introduced that further increase the life of the product, keeping it cleaner.

Naizil also offers photovoltaic thin film on some of their membranes under their SolarPanel brand. The Nazil SolarPanel comes rough 5′ x 7′ and has an output of 75Wp per panel. The panels produce direct current that afterwards can be transformed through an inverter to alternate current and then can be used in standard electrical systems.

Other PVC manufacturers to check out are Seaman, SergeFerrari and Mehler.


Imagine Fabric Structures that are light and have insulation.

Thats’ where Nanogel or Aerogel comes in.

You’ve heard these brand names before being used on a bunch of things like glass and metal. Well, you can get it on fabric, too.

For example, Translucent skylights and membranes are now incorporating Lumira™ aerogel (formerly Nanogel® aerogel). Not sure why they changed names. Although it provides a little less translucency than traditional translucent materials like teflon coated fiberglass, acrylics or polycarbonate, they are an excellent value and can substantially reduce energy costs and provide a great return on investment.

“Nanogel-type” membranes can increase the R-Value of a membrane to be significantly higher than a normal skylight or membrane.

You get natural light and a high level of insulation all in one product. Pretty cool or warm.

See companies like Cabot, Birdair and Aerolite.

NovaShield II

NovaShield II is a polyethelene used for clear spans, agricultural and industrial structures.

The brand name comes from Intertape Polymer Group and Engineered Coated Products.

Designed to meet the industry’s highest standards, NovaShield II polyethylene fabric has great strength-to-weight ratios and its lighter weight makes for easier, faster installations. NovaShield  is an alternative to PVC. NovaShield II is ideal for use in membrane structures or any other fabric application requiring fire retardant and UV characteristics.

Check out fabric from Interwrap too.


Next comes “O”.

Fabric Structure “M”‘s: Mast, Moss and Membranes

Sorry for the delay.

I got caught in September’s Hurricaine Irene and lost my basement and office which included my priceless (to me) fabric structure book collection some personal items but as they say, “less is more”. I have less in my house now but I appreciate more what survived the flood.

October brought me an early winter snow storm which left my house with no power for  a week. Lets see…no power…no sump pump working…no refrigerator on…no furnace working. You get the idea.

In November, I managed to get of of town in time to do some business only to find out that I was walking with a  ruptured achilles tendon and I didn’t know it!

I’m on crutches now for months followed by months of rehab.

But I still can talk about fabric structures!

Lessons Learned?

My body is like a fabric structure, it is made of a few components and all components rely on each other as awhole. If one piece is “sick”, in this case my achilles, I need to modify my design or posture, adjust my process or way of completing a task and try to be as light as possible to prevent putting extra weight on my foot or the earth!

In other words, I got to watch my diet!
Today, FabricArchitect talks about the letter “M”.

With “M”, I think of

  • Mast
  • Moss
  • Membrane

In some ways three things you aboslutely need when it comes to designing and building fabric structures.


The mast is the ionic, doric and corinthian column of the tensile world. It is both structure and architecture. It is the spine. It is conduit, support systems and wayfinder. The mast can do so many things so take advantage of it. It can support electrical, sound and be topped with a bale ring left open to the sky or enclosed in glass, metal or a variety of other materials. The perimeter mast can be pin connected or moment connected and be a leader for water or an edge for a sidewall.


I met the Artist Bill Moss when I was in College and the name has lived on to be the name associated with the trade show industry and the interior fabric stuctures. My friend Debra Roth of Pink Inc. now does her thing thru the Moss label and there are many companies out there doing “Moss type” structures (some better, alot worse). Watch out for wannabees. Most of the structures use a stretch fabric and now with improvements in printing  on them, there are unbelievable results. Experiencing Interior fabric sttructures is a great way to get into the business whether as designer, user, client or fan.


The membrane is the skin.  Make note that most, if not all, interior membranes cannot be used outside. Some of the things you can do inside cannot be replicated with an outside structure. Membranes come in all colors and strengths and translucency. For decades now, the industry has been accustom to teflon in the 10-12% range in translucencey, PVC in the 6-15% and Tenara in the 20-40% translucency. Along comes ETFE with transparency ranges from 50-97%. That’s progress.

But what’s next?

I am always looking for the next “skin”.

Fabric with PV cells already embedded in the material? A material that chances color to its mood. More insulated than traditional insulation. Able to “cover” tall building  in a single bound.

Buildings are getting lighter and lighter. Less is more, Light is more, Fabric is even better.

Think out of the box, design out of the box, detail out of the box and you will find yourself building a fabric structure.

See you at “N”.

Fabric Structures and “L”: Losberger, Light and Lessons

This week we look a the the letter “L”.

It’s August here in the US and its hazy, hot and humid!

When its hot, people look for shade. Even my little big guy Elwood, nickname “L”,  is smart enough to know where to find good shade.

When I think of the letter “L”, the following comes to mind:

  • Losberger
  • Light
  • Lessons


Losberger is a European manufacturer of tents made with aluminum box beams found around the world. Real nice and clean. If you are looking for temporary structures with permanent looks, check them out. Other companies making simliar structures include Fabritec, DeBoer, Roder, and Neptunus.


Fabric Structure are commonly considered when there is a need for a “lightweight” structure that uses a “light” material that allows daylight and is reflective enough to create spectacular lighting experiences.

Less is more, Light is more, Fabric is even better.

I often get asked what color fabrics are available for fabric structures or why are all fabric structure white.

The answer is simple.

When you are under a fabric structure where the membrane is a color, because of the material’s translucency, your skin will tend to have the pigment of that color. For example, if you are under a yellow tent, you will tend to be “yellow”, green, “green”. You get the idea. You don’t want to have your picture taken under a pink or blue tent. My advice is to stay with white (it doesnt go out of style) and invest in the lighting.


When its hazy, one needs protection from the element. When its hot, protecting one from direct UV and heat gain is essential. When its humid, natural ventilation would be great to have.

Designed properly and with the right material, a fabric structures works well to combat the hazy, hot and humid days of summer. Its does pretty well in the Fall, Winter and Spring too.

In twenty years of doing this, There are still lessons to be learned.

I break it down to Design, Detail and Delivery.

Design takes time. One can design the same form in two different places and you will get different results. The shade will be different. Natural ventilation will be different. How it is seen from a distance will be different. Take time to review the design.

Details takes will. Details can make or break a design. Details can also make or break a project financially. Some details are cheap. Some are expensive. Many times, you get what you pay for it.  Details come in all shapes and sizes. Some seen, not seen but all play a role in the overall design.

Delivery is more than just a package. Just because the structures has arrived on site that doesn’t mean the job is done. 99% of a fabric structures is not built on site. It’s built in a controlled environment and should be shipped with great care. The final 1% is the installation and seeing the structure installed properly, the membrane tight as a drum and the structure performing is the goal. That means doing what it says it was going to do. Shade, shelter and more.

See you in September to talk “M”.

Fabric Structure’s Special “K”

The FabricArchitect looks today at the letter “K”.

K could easily be Kevlar or kips per foot, but I always think of my daughter Kay C. Armijos (#13) first who was born in Kansas City when I was doing fabric structures in the MidWest in 2000. Another story for another day.

Todays words are:

KD Kanopy

Keder is a hard rubber rope that is usually found at the edge of the membrane where it is going to be clamped or in an extrusion for tents, tarps, signage and tension fabric structures. It comes in a number of diameters and it is important to have at the edge of the material in order to keep the membrane from slipping out of its component. Kedar is rarely mentioned in a design meeting but it will appear in the details and on site. Check out American Keder.


Lately, there is a desire for designers and clients to want their fabric structures to “move”. They want to be able to open and close it at the push of a button or be adaptable for a variety of environmental conditions. BC Place in Vancouver will have a retractable portion to its roof and many new stadiums are bringing “Kinetic Architecture” to the design. Uni-Systems out of Minneapolis,  Hardesty and Hanover  our of New York and Clauss Markisen out of Europe are just a few of the new names in the fabric structure business who are introducing mechanized devices to move lightweight structure.

Also, check out folks like inventor Chuck Hoberman and Engineer Craig Schwitter of Buro Happold who are collaborating under the Adaptable Building Initiative to explore new and exicting retractable structures.

What could be more adaptable than a membrane structures?

From the nomads to the next dome stadiums, Kinetic Architecture is here to stay.

KD Kanopy
When I was getting into this field in the mid to late 80’s there was a number of “pop up” fabric structures coming to market. Camping tents and inflatables were coming of age and there was a peculiar new item being sold. Fleamarkets and outdoor food markets were growing in popularity and owners were making temporary structures with conduit tubing, plumbing fixtures and speedrail systems.

At the same time, “scissor bar” framing systems that were attached to fabric where being introduced. One that caught my eye was KD Kanopy where aerospace technology meets flea market tent. There are plenty of companies in this market now.

Funny how these structures are now part of our popular culture.

They are seen at tailgate parties, picnics, soccer games, races and special events. I use to call them big umbrellas with four legs.

These are not your grandfather’s pop up tents anymore.

Try one and buy one on for size.

Next week, We shall talk about “L”.

The ABC’s of Fabric Structures returns: The Letter J

by Sam Armijos

Two kids, a dog, 7 days a week of sports and preaching and promoting fabric structures all over the place can keep you pretty busy and away from writing but I’m back. I was stuck on the letter “J” because all I could think about was the name of my first born (“Jay #13″) and he was born when I was working on the Uni-Dome in Waterloo, Iowa in 1998.

When it comes to fabric structures and the letter “J”, the following comes to mind:

  • Jacking
  • Jacksonville
  • Jakob


“Jacking” is a term used for raising the mast or columns of a structure using hydraulic jacks. I recall a “sandpit” detail used at both Jacksonville, FL and at Fabritec’s Nautica Amphitheater  (now the Jacobs Pavilion) in Cleveland to raise the mast to tension the membrane from the ground instead of up in the air.

You basically raise the mast that is sitting in a large sand pit and add sand or shims to it to keep it level. Pretty simple and it works too! Gotta find that detail. Maybe you have seen it?

Jacksonville (Amphitheater)

Jacksonville Amphitheater also known as Metropolitan Park is one of the first permanent fabric structures built in the US for musical performances. Designed by my friends at FTL who I once worked for, the structure was the first of its kind on the waterfront and was followed by the likes of Pier Six Music Pavilion in Baltimore, Bank of America Pavilion in Boston and Ntelos in Portsmouth, VA, just to name a few. That structure is at least 25 years old and could probably use a recover by now but it still rocks.


Stainless steel cables and hardware always come to mind when discussing fabric structures and I always seem to see Jakob, a swiss maker of cables and fittings at trade shows. The do handrails, green screens, wire meshes, you name it. Nice stuff. You can find these types of cables and hardware from the likes of Ronstan and Pfeifer too.

Next week, we talk “K”.

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”

Fabric Structures and Horst, Hypars and Hospitals

This week The FabricArchitect looks at the letter “H”. The first things that come to mind are:

  • Horst (Berger)
  • Hypars
  • Hospitals

I first started studying fabric structures at Rensselaer in 1985. One of my thesis advisors was an Engineering professor named Bill Spillers. Bill recently passed away in 2010. When I asked him to help me with my thesis on Fabric Structures in Housing, he told me the person you need to meet first is Host Berger.


You cant’ talk about fabric structures without talking about one of the great pioneers in the industry: Horst Berger. Besides “Frei”, he is one of the few personalities in the industry who is recognized by a single name.

Born and educated in Germany,  Horst joined Severud Associates in New York City and worked on projects such as the St. Louis Arch, Madison Square Garden, and Toronto City Hall. In 1968, he formed Geiger Berger Associates with David Geiger and gained international fame for creating a specialized firm devoted to air and tension structures for permanent applications. There are a number of engineers around the world who gained experience in tension structures from their time spent at Geiger  Berger.

Berger  is credited for designing and engineering a number of structures and was instrumental in both the 105-acre roof for the Haj Terminal  and the Denver Airport which recently was awarded the 25 year award from the AIA.

He’s still around and loves talking fabric structures.

His book, Light Structures: Structures of Light inspired me to write my own book, Fabric Architecture


I can give you all the mathematical jargon on what a Hyperbolic paraboloid is but it wont help you get your fabric structure get built. What you need to know is that this is the starting point to any fabric structure. All fabric structures need to have some form of a hypar or saddle shape to be stable. Hypars must have at least four points (two high and two low and opposite each other). Designers as well as fabricators love hypars. You can create endless concepts but you have to follow the rules.


Hospitals need Fabric Structures. From covered parking to covered walkways to entry canopies to interior applications, a hospital has a number of places for fabric structures.  Besides UV protections, fabric structures are ideal for shading outdoor spaces for the elderly as well as playgrounds for the children. It can be used in outdoor seating areas for employees and screen mechanical equipment.

Next we go to “I”

3G’s for Fabric Structures

FabricArchitect is going way back to “old school” with the letter “G”:

  • Geiger
  • Green Fabric Structures
  • Gas Stations


When I was studying fabric structures in College (I went to NJIT for undergrad and Rensselaer for Graduate work), one of the main pioneers in the field was David Geiger. David Geiger was an engineer who invented the air-supported fabric roof system used for almost half the domed stadiums in the world. He unfortunately died young at the age of 54. Dr. Geiger received more than a dozen patents for long-span roof systems. His air-supported system cover the Metrodome in Minneapolis and he Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan and he was part of the Geiger Berger team that introduced fabric structures to America. He also founded Geiger Engineers which is still around today. He also invented a cabledome roof system that is used at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Green Fabric Structures

“Green” can mean so many things but when it comes to fabric structures, it means being sustainable.

Sustainable design (also referred to as “green design” or “eco-design”) is the art of designing physical objects to comply with the principles of economic, social and ecological sustainability. The essential aim of sustainable design is to produce places, products and services in a way that reduces use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact, and relates people to the natural environment.

I know you have heard that before.

My experience?

Everyone has different viewpoints: Owner, client, Architect/designer, Consultant, Contractor on sustainable design.

My answer?

Green Fabric Structures can be more expensive but provide benefits beyond providing basic shade, signage and shelter. The provide unique Design, Materials and Construction benefits.

Design benefits include:

  • Day lighting (reduce the need for artificial lighting)
  • UV protection (reduce the risk of skin cancer)
  • Water collection (water used for irrigating plants, etc.)
  • Solar shading (reduce energy on building’s mechanical system)
  • Education (structures that teach people about UV protection, recyclability, etc.)

Material and Fabrication benefits include:

  • Longer lasting materials (Silicone, Tenara, PTFE, ETFE, PVC)
  • Recyclable materials (recyclable PVC and polyofin)
  • Energy it takes to create materials is low compared to other materials.
  • Energy it takes to fabricate membrane compared to other materials.

Construction and Installation benefits include:

  • Less and Lighter is more. More structure on fewer trucks. Lighter equipment needed to erect.
  • Less impact on the ground (smaller concrete foundations, utility tension cable anchors)
  • Shipping cost. Light load.
  • Retrofit or reuse of the site. “Remove and reuse”

Need more info?

Gas Stations

All this talk about design and sustainability makes me think of the need for alternative energy and “charging stations” for our new devices.

The filling station, also known as a gas station, petrol  station or service station, has been selling fuel for motor vehicles since 1888.

OK, What does this have to do with fabric structures?

Not sure when the first gas station canopy was created but it is now very common to see them used for branding and signage. It would seem ideal to use a fabric structure over the fuel pumps but there are few examples.

Try one on for size.

See you next time at the letter H.

Sam in 30

Sam in 30.

See a 30 second video on what I’m all about.

The F word in Fabric Structures

When it comes to the letter “F”,  Besides Fun, the FabricArchitect can think of a couple or more things:

  • Failure
  • Fabric
  • Frei Otto


No one likes talking about structural failures but when a couple of fabric structures collapse due to unprecedented snow and ice storms, some things should be discussed. I recently read an article in the New York Times regarding ice falling from skyscrapers in New York. The temptation is to fault the designer, architect or engineer.

While fabric roofs have collapsed, traditional roofs are also collapsing too. The damage has been less below a fabric structures and they are much easier to repair and replace.

Fabric Structures are designed to the latest codes and these are 100 year storms we are experiencing. However, as one Architect friend put it, “Is there something in the design and engineering of these structures or is it just an Act of God or maybe the fact codes need to be changed to adjust to global warming snow levels?

The most important concern resulting from building failure is life safety . I believe that a fabric structure provides a great cost effective solution for shade and shelter and since it relies on few structural members its record for structural damage and loss of life is very low.

Frei Otto

I couldn’t wait until we reach “O” to discuss Frei Otto! He is the forefather, founder and pioneer of Tension Fabric Structures. His work is the reason I got into this business. From the German Pavilion at Expo 67 to the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich, he is most likely responsible for the hundreds (maybe thousands) of designers and engineers that have carried the torch of lightweight structures around the world. I have always wondered how many people were truly influenced by Lightweight Structure advocates like Frei Otto and Buckminster Fuller (another F). Architect Phillip Johnson once said “in Architecture, You cannot not know history”. In Fabric Structures, you cannot not know Frei Otto.


This is such a huge topic. Architectural fabrics in common use today include:

  • PTFE
  • Silicone-coated fiberglass
  • Woven PTFE
  • PVC-coated polyester
  • PVC-laminated polyester
  • Theatrical draperies
  • Stretch fabrics (spandex)
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • ETFE

Without trying to reinvent the wheel, the best way to determine which material to use is to see what has already been used for the building type you are considering.

If you are interested in structures such as tents or umbrellas where the main objective is to provide temporary, nomadic shelter, you are probably looking at vinyl laminated or coated polyester.

If you are researching awnings and canopies, the options are endless. You are most likely to hear words like acrylic canvas and backlit fabrics and materials which you can apply graphics to.

If shade is your primary concern, the buzz word is structural mesh, high density polyethylene (HDPE), perforations and % of light transmission.

For warehousing, industrial applications and temporary buildings, a common term may be clear spans or pre-engineered fabric buildings with materials that are mold and mildew resistant.

The interior and lighting industry have their own variety of fabrics where flame resistance, UL ratings and % of reflectance are the most important issues.

Air and Tension Fabric Structures rely heavily on its fabric’s structural characteristics and tensile strength, sound absorption and solar transmission play a major role in their selection.

Material Choices

OK, so now you’ve seen what’s out there already, but you want to make a statement, solve your clients needs and have unlimited funds.

Yeah, right!

What material do you use?

Is your project near the water?

Is it meant to last 5, 10, 20, 30 years?

Do you want to see it from afar or do you want it to be dark inside at noon?

These are all important questions one should answer before you even start.

Make Mine Non Combustible

In most States, permanent, totally enclosed structures require a “non combustible” or Class A/B rating according to Building Codes. The most recognized and accepted material used for Architectural Applications is Teflon Coated Fiberglass or PTFE.

Recognized manufacturers include Saint Gobain, Verseidag, FiberTech, Chuko and Taconic. Teflon comes to the site brown like a pair of khakis but bleaches to a milky white over time (usually 4-8 weeks). The biggest problem with Teflon is that it is stiff and brittle and must be handled very carefully to avoid breaking the fibers. The best part is its life span (30 years) and “self cleaning” attributes.

Other “non combustible” materials include Silicon Coated Fiberglass, Sefar’s Tenara and  ETFE.

Make Mine PVC or PVDF

The majority of fabric structures being considered today are for uses which do not require complete enclosure. That means, they are most likely “open air” or do not require a Class A rating. Class C is the most common rating and NFPA 701 is the most accepted certificate for most Fire Marshals. Vinyl coated polyester (PVC) is the most common material used on the market today.

What’s not to like?

The material comes in a variety of colors, strengths, weights, thickness, perforations, translucency and textures. The material is pliable and stretches quite nicely. You can find material with 10, 12 and even 15 year warranties. You can find material that is 50 to 100” wide so you can have few, fewer or the fewest amounts of seams.

Manufacturers include Ferrari, Mehler, Naizil, Seaman and Verseidag, to name a few. These are the names most seen on Specifications, which means that these companies are directly marketing and assisting the Architect in the early stages of the design.

PVC comes in a variety of top finishes: acrylic, PVDF and PVF film. There is much debate about top finishes but all manufacturers agree that they are needed to protect the base fabric from UV degradation, water and wind.

Frankly, it’s all about the coatings.

PVF is a film applied to the main fabric while acrylic and PVDF are coatings. Both PVF and PVDF claim to be “self cleaning” or provide the base material with a much cleaner and maintenance free surface but both require additional work in the shop which may be unknown to the Architect.

Both top of the line PVF and PVDF require that the top coat or film where two panels are to meet be grinded off in order for them to be RF welded. This is time consuming and requires great care in order to keep the seams clear of dirt, model and mildew. There are “weldable” PVDF but their warranties are not as long as the high tech top coats.

PVC Structures love graphics and provide a great backdrop for projected images.

Made in the Shade

Today, more and more fabric structures are being designed for shade only. Structural mesh and perforated fabrics are being specified because of the need for shade, the need to allow the elements to go thru the material and the need for a space to “see thru and be seen”. The material most often used is high density polyethylene (HDPE). Manufacturers include Multiknit, Coolaroo and Shadesure. This material is a higher grade mesh than what one would see at a home improvement warehouse or at an outdoor furniture store.

HDPE is used for playgrounds, areas requiring hail protection, schools, day care centers as well as theme parks and spaces of public assembly. Mesh is hot so you can stay cool. Mesh comes in colors, fire rated and with different perforations. It has a life span of 8-10 years and in most cases lowers the size and loads on the structural system and foundations because it takes less wind.

Keep it simple

If you want to keep it simple, then work with materials which do not rely on their structural characteristics for its stability. These materials are usually clad on a frame. The materials are usually vinyl laminated polyester, acrylic coated canvas, and materials with a light topcoat. Sunbrella and Weblon are common brands. The material has less technical information available for applying them to fully engineered lightweight structures but when used as a cladding on a frame, they offer many opportunities to the Architect. One can apply graphics to the material, bring texture to the surface or make something truly unique.

Keep it inside

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.

The Future of Fabric?

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt for the Fabric Architect to dream about the future of architectural fabrics. My wish list would include “Smart” fabrics, fabrics that change color according to weather, light or mood. Fabrics made with optic and photovoltaic fibers. Materials with longer life spans, higher tensile strength, improved self cleaning, higher translucency and more environmentally friendly.

The future of Architectural Fabric Structures depends on the continuing effort of manufacturers to improve its existing products and introduce new materials.

Less is more, lightweight is more. Fabric is even better.

We go to “G” next.