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Published on June 14, 2018

Today we'll cover the 10 advantages that are making tensile construction a popular choice for large projects.

Sound good?

Then let's begin.

And here are the advantages you'll discover in this post:

  1. The Applications Of A Traditional Building, But Cheaper
  2. Natural Light, Or 'The Indoor-Outdoor Effect'
  3. Energy Efficient
  4. Tensile Structures Need Less Materials
  5. Prefabrication Saves Time, Materials And Energy
  6. Quick Installation
  7. Low Maintenance
  8. Flexible Design
  9. Building Codes
  10. Wide Range Of Uses


Lightbulb Need a refresher course on tensile structures? This definitive guide answers all Frequently Asked Questions. Take a look.





Advantage #1. The Applications Of A Traditional Building, But Cheaper

Most of you will be familiar with tensile canopies and pavilions.

They’re the kind of thing you see covering outdoor dining spaces, or providing shade in play areas:


Shade Sail 2


But did you know the same basic method, tensile construction, can be used to build entire buildings?

Often referred to as ‘superstructures’ because of their mammoth steel frames, tensile buildings have been used as indoor sports facilities, exhibition venues, aircraft hangars, industrial storage spaces…




…essentially, any project in need of a large indoor space could use tensile in place of traditional construction.

The problem is, most people aren’t aware tensile construction exists.

Which is a real shame because, for the vast majority of projects, a tensile structure would cost less than a traditional one.

Tensile structures:

  • Save energy
  • Use fewer materials
  • Have lower lifecycle costs
  • Are more sustainable
  • Offer a wide variety of design options

And are also much quicker to install than traditional buildings.



Advantage #2. Natural Light, Or ‘The Indoor-Outdoor Effect’

Perhaps the main benefit of tensile structures is the way they use natural light.

They don’t have opaque roofs. Instead, they have translucent membranes which let sunlight pass through to illuminate the inside of the building.

We call this the Indoor-Outdoor Effect.


Because you get all the benefits of daylight without being exposed to the elements:


Tensile Fabric Natural Light


It’s like being outdoors, only without the bad weather.

And it’s more crucial than you might think:

Natural light can make workers more productive and significantly improve student performance in schools.


Lightbulb Some research even suggests daylighting (the practice of using natural light in place of artificial) could reduce artificial lighting consumption by as much as 80%.


Not to mention multiple studies have found natural light boosts mood, health, and sleep, too.

So, to recap:

  • Tensile facilities with transparent roofs mainly use natural light
  • Natural light improves performance
  • Natural light is also good for mood and general health
  • Using natural light also saves on artificial light usage

Bear in mind that whilst it is possible to have a tensile fabric structure with a coloured membrane roof, it could lower the amount of natural light that passes through into the facility.

Although, for some projects you might prefer or even need a coloured roof:


Coloured Roofs

One example is the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff:


Doctor Who 800px 

As you can see, the roof membrane is darker in colour. 

That's because the client needed the large, clear span space a tensile membrane structure could provide, but didn't want natural light to spoil the exhibit inside.

Because even a coloured membrane can allow some daylight through, the client went for one of the darkest fabric colours to make sure the Doctor Who exhibit achieved the right effect.


But What About A Glass Or Polycarbonate Roof?

It might seem like a glass or polycarbonate roof would produce the Indoor-Outdoor effect.

After all, glass is more transparent than membrane, which means more light. And that must be better, right?

Well, not exactly:

Though it may seem strange, the additional translucence of these materials is actually a drawback.

With glass or polycarbonate, anyone inside the building will get the full, unadulterated impact of any sunlight.

Which, on very bright days, could be uncomfortable.




On the other hand, a membrane roof acts as a filter. So instead of glaring sunlight, you get a level of natural light that’s soft and diffused.




In other words:

Tensile membrane structures provide a more comfortable level of luminance than traditional buildings with glass panel roofs.

Not to mention some membranes (like ours) also protect against UV and pollution.



Advantage #3. Energy Efficiency

Because of the Indoor-Outdoor effect, tensile facilities save money on electricity bills by relying less on artificial lights. 

But fabric structures also help with general energy use:

One issue a building can face—especially one with big windows—is solar gain.

This is where a building gains heat through solar radiation.

It can be a problem in summer because cooling makes up one of the biggest energy loads for a traditional building.

As a result of their design, air conditioning can be a big expense.


Lightbulb In contrast, most tensile fabric structures have high reflectance and low sun absorption rates


Their membrane roofs reflect the sun's rays. So, the building only absorbs a very small amount of heat.

Significantly less than, say, a dark-coloured traditional roof:



‘Cooler' roofs actually have global benefits, too:

The dark-coloured roofs of traditional buildings can absorb so much heat that they create what’s known as a ‘heat island’.


What Is A Heat Island?

A 'heat island' is an area, usually urban, that's much warmer than its surrounding areas.

It happens when a building becomes so warmed by the sun that the heat doesn’t just pass into the space below:

It actually radiates back out into the surrounding atmosphere.


Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says something as simple as having more white roofs in cities could be enough to combat up to two years’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions.


So as far as cool, white roofs go, a tensile structure is an ideal way to boost the green credentials of a project.

In sum:

  • Transparent membrane roofs can help combat the ‘heat island’ effect contributing to global warming
  • Reduced solar gain means tensile structures aren’t as reliant on air conditioning
  • Natural light can still enter the facility, lowering electricity bills




Tensile construction is a sustainable method in a lot of ways.

We’ve already covered the use of natural light and reduced solar gain.

But there’s also:

  • Less materials
  • Offsite prefabrication
  • Quick installation
  • Low maintenance

Let’s look at these in more detail:


Advantage #4. Tensile Structures Need Less Materials
Tensile Benefit Less Materials

A building system that’s based on a steel framework and a fabric roof doesn’t need a lot of materials anyway.

But the way the building’s framework is constructed may reduce the required materials even further.

Some tensile structures use steel frameworks, and some use aluminium.

As a construction material, steel has a very high strength-to-weight ratio, which means you don’t need as much of it to produce a strong frame as you would other comparable materials.

This doesn't just save time, energy, and money:

It also cuts down on things like groundworks and manufacturing, both key sources of embodied carbon.


Unlike other roof materials that need rigid supports (like pillars, columns and struts) at regular intervals, a fabric membrane can span clear from one side of a building to the other.

Again, this cuts down on the amount of material that’s involved in the structure.

The result?

A lightweight structure that doesn’t need a lot of groundworks—using less energy and taking less time to build.



Advantage #5. Prefabrication Saves Time, Materials And Energy

Most of the parts that make up a tensile building are manufactured away from the construction site in a controlled facility.

These components or ‘sub-assemblies’ are then transported to and assembled on site.

This kind of prefabrication is the essence of modern construction because it combines quality and predictability.

Unlike a traditional building, factory-created tensile facilities can be controlled more rigorously against tighter parameters.

Not to mention the other benefits:

  • Less time spent on site
  • Lower likelihood of weather delays
  • Greater precision
  • More strict margin for error
  • Less waste

Which, all in all, sum up to time and energy saved.



Advantage #6. Quick Installation

Traditional or 'conventional' construction can have a big negative impact on the site environment.

It's loud, disruptive, and usually lasts a long time.

It also involves a lot of expensive site work.

Tensile structures, on the other hand, take a much shorter time to build.


Because they have less materials and are, for the most part, manufactured offsite.

So, you won’t use as much energy during the construction phase (and you’ll get a quicker result).



Advantage #7. Low Maintenance

Tensile structures need only a very low level of maintenance compared to a traditional building of a similar size.

Outside of vandalism or accidents, these structures are near enough immune to damage or weathering.

And even accidental damage can be protected against by fixing steel cladding to the bottom part of the structure.

Even when it comes to cleaning, a fabric roof will weather better than glass or polycarbonate.

Any accumulated dirt would show up clearly on either glass or polycarb because they’re completely transparent.

Membrane, on the other hand, has diffusion that works both ways—not only does it filter light, it filters visibility of any dirt that’s sitting on top of the fabric.

From inside the facility, the membrane looks as clear as the day it was installed.



Advantage #8. Flexible Design

Using membrane and steel to shape the body of a building opens up a world of design possibilities.

Most tensile contractors—especially those who create permanent structures—can design bespoke buildings with an iconic look.

More complex design work aside, even at their most simple, membrane roofs can give off a stunning glow at night:




And that’s not all—just take a look



Advantage #9. Building Codes

For all intents and purposes, tensile fabric structures can function just like traditional buildings—including adhering to relevant building regulations.




Tensile isn’t right for small projects.

As a general rule of thumb:

The bigger the project, the more cost-effective tensile construction becomes.

Sports halls and leisure centres, for example, are an ideal application for tensile.

Residential homes are not.


Advantage #10. Wide Range of Uses

In short:

Tensile structures work for projects that need large, covered spaces.

Once the framework and membrane are in place the inside can be fit out pretty much any way you'd like.

Some are built to house training pitches:


Tensile Housing Indoor Football Pitch


Or as storage and handling facilities:


Storage and Handling Building


For exhibitions:


Tensile Exhibition Centre


And for general sports:


Tensile Tennis Centre


Or even to be surf schools:


Tension Membrane Surf School


Or swimming pools:

Indoor Swimming Pool

Some other common applications for tensile structures are:

Plus many more.

In fact, there are probably some uses we haven't even thought of yet.

Especially when you consider a tensile structure can be used as part of a larger project. 

That's mainly how this type of building is used by architectsbecause a tensile building can look great, but also saves money to use elsewhere in the project.

The key thing to understand about tensile it that it's still growing.

Chances are, it's only going to get more popular as more people realise the advantages.



Is A Tensile Structure Right For My Project?

If you’ve read this post and still aren’t certain whether tensile is right for you, you should take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Tensile Fabric Structures.

It’s new for 2018 and packed with even more information on tensile construction, including a free downloadable guide.

Otherwise, you could always talk to an expert who’d be more than happy to chat.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Tensile Fabric Structures (New for 2018)

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