tensile fabrics

Under Tension: 5 Projects That Use Fabric as a Building Medium

Structural fabric has emerged as an innovative architectural material.

Eric Baldwin Eric Baldwin

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While fabric usually doesn’t stand on its own, structural fabric derives its strength from tension. The key lies in providing a structural framework that locks the woven mesh in a stable state. The resulting dynamic forms derived from fabric and steel are visually stunning and equally functional. The idea behind fabric as a building medium isn’t anything new, but through modern advances in technology — particularly the development of new materials and coatings — we are seeing a resurgence of this element in construction.

Tensile structures are lightweight, strong, durable systems that offer architects formal flexibility in ways other building materials cannot. The most alluring qualities of fabric include the diffusion of light, acoustic dampening and the ability to span large areas uninterrupted. The following projects feature structural fabric spanning wall to wall as ceilings planes or forming three-dimensional sun shading façades. This series of translucent and opaque wrappers give shape to both building and landscape.

King Fahad National Library Riyadh by Gerber Architekten, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Structural Fabric by Sefar

Centered along the rapidly changing Olaya District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the King Fahad National Library pulls the viewer in through its iconic push and pull of the façade. The continuous strips of white fabric are position over a steel and wire framework in a way that introduce depth, curvature, and protection from UV rays.

Gerber Architekten was tasked with providing a one-of-a-kind reading space with soft lighting to encourages the exchange of knowledge. The entire ceiling becomes a skylight, Sefar Architecture’s Lightceiling is positioned under a rigid steel and glass structure that during the day dissolves away, and what is left is a soft dreamlike reading landscape.

Soundforms by Flanagan Lawrence, London, United Kingdom

Structural Fabric by Architen Landrell

Soundforms is a high quality outdoor performance shell that’s all about acoustics. This UK designed and manufactured performance hall has the capability to be portable or permanent and can see either a lightweight tensile or inflatable construction.

The performance hall comes in three sizes, but the sculped organic form is maintained. Intensive acoustics and material research point at it being the optimal vessel for unparalleled acoustic projection. The skin membrane is a white PVC coated polyester fabric by Architen Landrell. Besides its superior acoustical properties the structural fabric has unmatched strength, durability, and features self-cleaning capabilities.

Zenith de Strasbourg by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Strasbourg, France

Structural Fabric by Valmiera Glass Group

Structural fabric translates well into larger applications. Zenith de Strasbourg, Zenith — meaning biggest in French — is a 1,000,000 square-meter event space sitting just outside of the city of Strasbourg, between suburbs and city center. The Architect conceived of a geometric lamp that would drive energy and form to the otherwise horizontal landscape.

The massive event space sees the use of Atex 5,000 TRL by Valmiera Glass Group, a flexible fabric that glides over its steel skeleton. The bright orange membrane is opaque as the sun hits it during the day, but when night falls and concerts get underway, the fabric is lit from within, revealing its steel shell beneath.

Arena da Amazônia by schlaich bergermann partner, Manaus, Brazil

Structural Fabric by CENO TEC

From the outside, the stadium in Manaus hides its structure. Fabric stretches some 300,000 sq. ft. over the venue in graceful gestures that touch the ground in delicate petal shapes. Once inside, the ridged and complex structure is revealed, while the white fabric falls to the back where it is tightly held over the metal shell.

The structural fabric is made from 252 different pieces of a glass/PTFE membrane by CENO TEC. The company is trusted worldwide for its superior consistency, strength and longevity of its fabrics.

Cape Town Stadium by GMP Architects, Louis Karol & Associates, and Point Architects, Cape Town, South Africa

Structural Fabric by Hightex

Sited next to the Atlantic Ocean, this South African stadium is a beautiful soft-bodied building, mimicking the pull of the nearby mountains. The bones of the stadium flow radially outwards, creating a truss structure that sports a vale-like membrane wrapping along the sides and up over the venue.

A translucent PTFE-coated silver mesh glass fabric by Hightex was selecenocted for its translucency and breathability. The shell structure’s slight offsets are given shape through the soft fabric. Hightex offers a great selection of structural fabric for interior and exterior applications as well as mesh cloth that allow atmospheric conditions to flow freely through the fabric.

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