Tension Fabric Buildings 101- How did it all begin?

Have you ever seen a fabric building and not given it much thought? When was the idea of a tension fabric structure actually born?
When you were a child perhaps you built a tension fabric structure when you draped your bedspread across two chairs to make a tent! Remember trying to secure the fabric so the whole thing wouldn't implode? Then if you think about the history of America and the Native American's they had examples of tension fabric buildings in the form of tepees or tents. Simplistically a tension fabric building takes a strong material or fabric and stretches it and places it under tension to create a rigid like roof or enclosure.

Fabric Buildings Make Their Appearance in Architecture

In the 1950s, architects and engineers began to take a renewed interest in using tension as the primary method of transferring loads in structures. Meet Frei Otto and Horst Berger of Germany. They were the two main individuals responsible for advancement in this investigation of tensile structures.  Otto was a pioneer in tensile architecture who discovered natural forms such as soap bubbles and crystals created shapes that used a minimum amount of materials very efficiently. He then went on to make the connection that these forms could be used as possible shapes of perfect tension and therefore could be utilized in tensile architecture. However, without these shapes being defined mathematically, little further analysis and testing could be done without creating painstaking models out of soap. Berger was instrumental here. He discovered the mathematical relationship describing this soap bubble form. Since this discovery, tension fabric structures have begun to appear on the architectural landscape
Examples today of famous tension fabric structures include the largest cable supported roof in the world of the Millennium Dome in London, England
and the Haj Terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, designed in part by Berger and currently one of the largest tensile structures in the world.               
Tension Fabric Buildings

Types of Tension Fabric Buildings Structural Systems

Air Supported Structures

Currently, there are two main types of structural systems that involve tension fabric: air supported systems and tension membrane systems. Wikipediadefines an air supported structure as follows, "An air-supported (or air-inflated) structure is any building that derives its structural integrity from the use of internal pressurized air to inflate a pliable material (i.e. structural fabric) envelope, so that air is the main support of the structure, and where access is via airlocks."

Tension Supported Structures

Tension membrane systems rely on cables or steel framing as a base support. Regardless of the base system, tension fabric roofs are able to provide durable protection over great distances with very little material. The key lies in the strong fabric an concise engineering to insure the building can support the environment where it is built.

 Fabric structure image gallery here

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