The key to Tensile Structures is understanding the “design/build” process.
There are 3 major parts to a successful tensile structure experience (design, fabricate and build) and every decision made on the design affects how things get fabricated and built. The more complex and steel there is on a project, the more it will cost to design, fabricate and install. The fabric and hardware chosen is just as important as the paint finish and the foundations. Location, site access and labor rates also play a major role. My advice? Keep it simple.
Design takes expertise and design takes time. If you are interested in a tensile structure, it is best to have someone who has done a project similar to what you are looking for. Some designers are more familiar with designing large scale structures while others are more experienced with smaller scale projects.
Engineering requires someone who is well versed in both structure and material. The term “form finding” will come into play as the Engineer will make every effort to make the most structurally efficient design just make sure it solves your need. There are a number of computer-aided design and engineering software programs that assist the Engineer in making tensile structures. Its important to know and provide the Engineer with the correct building code information for your site.
Fabric and Fabrication
Fabrication plays a huge role in a tensile structure because all components are made in a controlled environment. Nothing is done on site. There are a number of fabrics in the market (PTFE, ETFE, PVC, HDPE) and they come from all over the world, they have different characteristics, prices, widths, etc. There are a number of welding or joining techniques for each material and not all fabricators have the machines or the skilled personnel to tackle every job. Fabrication locations may affect sustainable issues, shipping cost and construction schedule. Know where your membrane is being made.
Service and Maintenance
Although some fabrics are advertised to be “self cleaning” because of their durable topcoats, its nice to give the fabric a nice cleaning besides mother nature. Maintenance includes checking all the hardware pieces to avoid rust build up and the possible need to adjust a turnbuckle.
Installation of tensile structures requires a team of people that understand the material when it is not in tension and know when and where to set up cranes, lift the membrane and measure tension.

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