Tag Archives: Philadelphia

2017: Towards a Clear and Vertical Fabric Architecture

It’s time to look back on the year that was. And some thoughts on the year to come.

In the fabric structure industry here in the USA, two major projects caught my eye: Viking Stadium in Minneapolis, MN and the Stadiums at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY.

vikingstadiumta-597187860To the general public, the roof of the new Viking Stadium looks like a typical glass skylight but just the idea of watching a sporting event in a temperature controlled environment yet still being able to see the sky is what will become common in the future.

ETFE is the word of the year and a close second is transparency.

063471_013Designers will see new potential for mall renovations, airports, transit stations just to name a few. Developers and users will insist their traveling and shopping experience never be rained out. For those of us that want to look small, look no further to outdoor school areas, home extensions and public plazas to have “clear” roofs.

To see and be seen.

arthur-ashe-stadium-debut-retractable-roof-2016-us-tennis-open-01The US Open Tennis Facility in NY showed the sports world here in the US that a retractable roofs is no longer an option but a necessity. Is Met Life Stadium next?

It may look like a smaller version of the Dallas Cowboy stadium roof but it works in an urban context. The upcoming Atlanta Falcons Stadium roof will show case the retractable roof as an iconic piece of the Architecture in the city.

rossetti_usta_gs_792_0Another upcoming necessity will be the textile facade like seen at the Bille Jean King Court a the US Open. The facade will be seen more in convention building types. Old and new sports facilities will be wearing temporary or permanent coats. Designed using parametric equations and fluid dynamics or just plain and simple, these new facades will be ever changing billboards, climates changers and visual jewelry for buildings of all shapes and sizes from offices to warehouses to industrial buildings.

And “textile facades” work small too. They can screen mechanical systems, parking garages and a neighbor in style.

The Sky’s the limit and so is the horizon in 2017.

Have a Happy New Year!


Why Fabric?

What is. A place is too hot for children, parents…everybody. You can put sunblock on but the playground is hot, the bleachers are hot, even your car is hot when you get back in it.

Warnick DaycareWhat could be. A place that is shaded and protecting people from harmful UV rays. A shade structure over a playground that shades both children and parents. A sports field with covered bleachers. Your car in a cover parking spot.

What is. Playing in a space with artificial lighting because the roof is made of a material which does not allow natural daylight.

FF.Tennis ETFEWhat could be. Playing in a space with a roof made of a transucent membrane that allows natural daylight and eliminates the need for high utility bills. A roof that reflects the heat.

What is. A blank wall surface that lacks architecture yet its face offers so much potential.

TF.Textile Facade ExampleWhat could be. Imagine a bland parking garage transformed into an aesthetically pleasing textile facade. Image the side of your building which is exposed to so many people is all of a sudden a billboard for advertising or branding your company.

What is. A special event is cancelled due to the weather. The band is protected by the audience isn’t. How many rain outs can you afford.

DSC_0076_edited-1What could be. A structure that says “Come and Visit” and the show must go on. Seating in shade at a premium price. Rescheduling is minimized.

What is. A trend is now a requirement. To be “sustainable”, one must look at recyclable materials, designed to reduce the carbon footprint and reduce the amount of energy required to have human comfort.

Rosa Parks Transit CenterWhat could be. Fabric Structures as exterior shading devices. Fabric Structures using materials that are recyclable or have little impact in our landfills. Fabric Structures which do not take much energy to manufacture or install. Fabric Structures that not only provide shade but collect water too.

Why not Fabric?

“C” and Learn more about Fabric Structures

FabricArchitect continues his series on the ABC’s of Fabric Structures.

When you “C” a structure like the one on the right that I worked on in New York City at South Street Seaport, you will know the difference between a tent and a fabric structure.

Todays words are:

  • Cables
  • Catenaries
  • Cutting Patterns
  • Cost


Most fabric structures have an “edge” which is made of a fabric pocket or “cuff” in which a cable is placed inside of it.

This cable is then connected to a membrane plate or directly to the structural steel component.

Cables are usually associated with permanent structures but can be used in temporary structures as well. The issue with cables is that they require an end fitting and can be quite bulky to store as opposed to kevlar rope and webbing belts which are more often used for tents and moveable canopies.

As for cables, they come in all shapes and sizes and strands. I like designing structures with edge spans less than 25′ feet in order to keep cables at a cost effective nice size (3/8″ to 5/8″) with small end fittings.

Otherwise, the price jumps fast when they get bigger and they are harder and heavier to move around. I also prefer stainless steel or coated galvanized over any other cable being offered.

I always say “pay now, pay later or have a plan”. Cables are the visual jewelry of a fabric structure. They will look bad if not taken care of or made of an inferior material.

As for end fitting, we can talk more when I get to “E”.

Want to get a sneak peak at  cables and end fittings?

Visit Ronstan, Jakob or Pfeifer.


I never used Catenaries in a sentence until I started designing fabric structures!

Good word to know.

Catenaries describes the scalloped edge shape of the boundary of a  fabric structures from one specific  end point or node. Fabric structures rarely have straight edges. They always have curved edges if they are only being held at two points.

An old friend of mine in the industry once told me that a typical catenary “scallop” is usually 10% of the distance between the two points. I use that as a rule of thumb before it goes into “form finding”. For example, if the distance between two points is 20 feet, the catenary “scallop” in plan will be about 2′. Try it at home.

Fabric Structure computer software allows one to get not only the forces but the cable lengths of those tricking catenaries.

Want to know more about fabric structure software?

Fabritec Structures has Marty Brown in their offices. He is the developer of NDN, the specialized Finite Element Method (FEM) modeling and analysis software that is used around the world by leading consultants and fabricators for the engineering, design and patterning of tensile membrane systems.

Cutting Patterns

I always like to use the analogy of a tailored suit to describe a fabric structure.

You have the body or the design to start with. You pick out the materials and the tailor measures, cuts the materials and fabricates a custom outfit.
fabric structures is done much the same way but all the work is done in 3D using fabric structure software.

However, one inputs material characteristics into the program because no two materials stretch alike.

The program and then unfolds the 3D image into 2D to determine what the structures will look “unstretched” and ultimately provide the fabricator with “cutting patterns”.

These patterns are made using a series of x, y coordinates that a CAD/CAM machine can read in order to cut the pattern from a sheet of fabric. Adjustments and modifcation to the cutting pattern report needs to be made before the membrane is cut to accomodate seams, overlaps, reinforcements and cuffs.

What do you need to know?

Ask to see the report.

You need to make sure they have input the correct material charateristics and thay you are aware and have apporved the seams orientation and the location of reinformcements and pockets.

See Tensys for more info on cutting patterns.


“How much does it cost any way?” That’s the number one question I get all the time.

Do a simple exercise.

Take the plan area of your space.

Multiply it by 1.5. This will give you an estimate of the surface area of your fabric structure and include a small amount of fabric that is wasted on the cutting room floor.

Take the surface area and multiply if by $100.

In 2011, that’s the range for designing, engineering, fabricating, and installing a fabric structure. The range does not include foundations and it does not take into consideration the material finished, the size of the overall project or the material chosen.

Surface Area X $100= Budget

It will tell you if you can afford a custom structure.

I got fabric structure ideas in all shapes and sizes and cost.

Contact me and lets “C” if I can help you.

Next in the series: Design, Details and Dirt.

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.

The People have Spoken

The Election is Over.

The people have spoken.

They want it simple.

They want it cost effective.

They want it now.

Fabric Structures can be made simple, cost effective and now.

Here is a picture of a simple and cost effective walkway canopy for Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia.