Architects and specifiers who we work with often need to explain the benefits of building with tensile fabric as opposed to using other traditional construction materials. The answer is that there are many benefits… but the decision will always come down to a combination of how the structure needs to look, function and perform over time.
In this article, we focus on the environmental benefits of building with tensile fabric and the material choices available.
Our structures are very adaptable and can be custom designed into almost any shape you require. Using tensile fabric brings a lightness to a building that can’t be achieved otherwise. The large spans mean fewer columns, giving more useable floor area and open sightlines.
The designs we create utilise the principle of a tensile membrane with double curvature, which is a very efficient way to build. This makes the supporting frame lighter, too. Typically, the superstructure weighs around 32 kg/m2, approximately 25% less than a metal-clad canopy and far less than a masonry structure.
Reducing environmental impact
This approach delivers cost savings of at least 20%. More important, however, are the carbon savings with this low-carbon way of building. Embodied carbon (embodied CO2) is lower than an equivalent polycarbonate canopy by 32% in studies (95 kg CO2/m2 versus 140 kg CO2/m2). Embodied energy is also much lower, helping the transition towards net zero emissions (1038 MJ/m2 versus 1634 MJ/m2).
At the end of its life, a tensile fabric structure can be fully recycled. Our concrete foundations, steel frame and aluminium fixings all have well-established recycling routes. The fabric, too, has a manufacturer-supported recycling process. (See Serge Ferrari partner of the Polyloop Start up for a new recycling project.)
You can also use our structure as the catchment area for a rainwater harvesting system. We can design integral downpipes to direct clean water into your system, helping you meet the requirements for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).
Unlike with a metal or tiled roof, the materials we use to create tensile fabric structures are translucent, letting through enough daylight to achieve the 500lux needed for indoor sports venues – all for free and using zero electricity! Night-time illumination isn’t a problem either thanks to the fabric’s reflective inner surface that creates an even illumination from uplights.
Maximising the material
Most of our tensile structures use woven polyester coated with PVC / PVDF (generally referred to as ‘PVC fabric’ in the industry). This has been continuously improved to achieve a lifespan of 20+ years and is available in a range of colours. For peace of mind, the fabrics meet UK and international fire standards.
Other fabrics available for specific requirements include woven fibreglass coated with either PTFE (Teflon) or Silicone, which we use at garden centres because it allows UVA light through for plant growth. ETFE foil/film is another great option for this environment, creating a glass-like effect that allows 95% of light through.
All Fabric Architecture canopies and structures are designed and manufactured in the UK, meaning a quick turnaround and focused customer service for our clients. We can also arrange maintenance programmes and replace damaged fabrics, regardless of the original manufacturer. Do you think tensile fabric could be the building material of choice for your next project? We’d love to hear from you and help you develop your design concepts.