There are a number of innovative fabrics available that can be used to develop tensile structures, depending on the specific requirements of the project. Here we examine the benefits of these fabrics and how they can be incorporated into unique building designs.
One of the major deciding factors in the type of fabric to use for a tensile structure will be whether it is being used internally or externally, as each requires different features. Structural fabrics are stretched into place and typically have a 10-tonne maximum tensile strength.
External structural fabrics
Tensile structures are used in a range of external situations to create unique and iconic designs for many entertainment and leisure venues, such as the new Atletico Madrid stadium, where they will protect 96 per cent of the spectators when it rains. Designers have two options of fabric for external structures: PTFE (poly tetra fluoro ethylene (Teflon)) coated glass cloth and PVC (poly vinyl chloride) coated polyester cloth.
A PVC coating has a range of features, including UV stabilisers, colouring, antifungicides and fire retardants, and protective PVDF (fluorinated polymer) lacquers can be added to make the membrane easier to clean. These types of tensile structures typically have a 15- to 20-year lifespan; however, the visual appearance can deteriorate over time and become hard to clean.
A PTFE/glass tensile structure, such as those available from http://fabricarchitecture.com/, is ideal for more permanent developments, with the membrane having a lifespan of around 25 to 30 years.
Meshes can be added in both PTFE/glass and PVC/polyester to create a shaded effect; alternatively, a clear laminate PTFE/glass mesh can be used that has a 50 per cent translucency and provides a weatherproof effect.
Internal structure fabrics
When used internally, there are three types of fabric that can be incorporated into the design. Cottons can be manufactured in a large variety of colours and offer a cost-effective choice; however, they are better suited for temporary developments, as they are susceptible to shrinkage and staining. For more durability, PVC coated glass mesh can be used, while polyurethane coated glass cloth is also extremely long-lasting and looks similar to cotton.
In areas with stringent fire standards, such as exhibition halls, a pure glass mesh is suitable; meanwhile, some types of ceiling system need an open mesh so that a water sprinkler system can work effectively.