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Introduction To Tensile Membrane Structures

Tensile Membrane structures combine creativity and aesthetics with resource-conserving materials, short construction period, low costs, long life and wide range of applications.

The state of the art materials like PTFE (Teflon) coated fiberglass, silicone coated fiberglass and the PVDF/PVC coated polyester are waterproof, fire resistant, anti-uv and anti-dirt, thus require very little maintenance. As the materials are lightweight, the structures are able to achieve longer spans and are easily constructed. These result in substantial costs savings in the foundation and the supporting structures. But the main draw to designers and developers may be the varying forms, shapes and aesthetics that the materials can provide. These structures serve as the primary architectural form determinant and provide much of the building envelope system.

The development of a typical tensile structure undergoes a simple process. The architectural and engineering design begins with shape determination or form finding analysis under load. The form and shape can be modified or adjusted to suit the stress/load boundary conditions. Once the design is completed, the next steps would be fabrication of fabric and supporting structures, and finally, erection. Fabrication of fabric begins with patterning which is a process of selecting an arrangement of two-dimensional panels to develop the three-dimensional surface. The erection or installation of the fabric structure would require careful handling of the materials as well as knowledge of the behavior of the materials.

PVC/PVDF and PTFE/Glass Comparison Chart

  PVC/Polyester PTFE/Glass
Life Expectation 15 – 20 years 25-30 years.
Manufacture Fast to assemble with high frequency welders Slower to weld using hot plate welders.
Light Transmission Typically approx 16% depending on fabric weight. Blackout fabrics and high translucency fabric (>30%) are also sometimes available. As PVC.
Reflectivity Approx 75% Approx 75%.
Fire B1 according to DIN 4102. Will not support combustion and will not produce flaming droplets. Up to A2 according DIN 4120.
BS476 Part4, 6 and 7. Class 0 Materials.
UV Resistance UV stabilizers limit deterioration. Unaffected by UV radiation once initial bleaching occurs.
Sound Resistance Virtually transparent to low frequency sound. Effective as a mesh in front of acoustic quilt in reducing reverberation times. As PVC.
Heat Conductivity U value similar to single skin glazing at 4.6 W/m². As PVC.
Colours Wide range available ex. Stock for 500g/m² fabrics and in heavier structures fabrics with an area over 1800-3600 m². Usually white with limited colours available over 2000m². Metallised fabric also available.
Erection Can be tensioned in one operation. Slower to tension and may need a subsequent re-tensioning.
Graphics May be painted on or be printed (depending on fabric type). Can also have decals attached. Cleaning of the fabric becomes a much more time consuming process. The low surface friction prevents paint or ink keying into the surface. Not suitable if graphics are required.
Transportable Ideal for temporary/ seasonal structures. Ideal for permanent structure. Only re-erectable with great care.
Handling Easy to fold and handle. Handling procedures critical to avoid permanent damages.