The Three Main Designs of Fabric Tensile Structures

Architects can make striking, eye-catching features using tensile structures to design aesthetic free-form canopies. Basically, these structures are formed of components acting in tension, not compression, such as tents, suspended roofs and suspension bridges. There are three main designs of fabric tensile structures.

The Three Main Designs of Fabric Tensile Structures

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Mast-supported Structures

These look like a tent and use the least amount of material to build. These structures are membranes with one or more peaks either supported by masts or adjacent buildings. These peaks can be different shapes or sizes depending on how they are designed and attached. The openings tend to be round, oval or elliptical, which are covered or left open. Most of these types of structures can rely solely on the fabric’s structural characteristic without needing extra support, although larger ones will need radial cables. Safety cables are put in above the membrane to the ground, so that if the membrane should fail, the mast will stay up.

Arch-supported Structures

These are barrel-like and do not need interior supports as they have curved compression members to act as the main support. These can look very dramatic, with arches parallel to each other or fan vaults where the arches radiate from a central point. Frame-supported structures are just like large awnings and are often used when high-lateral loads cannot be constructed, such as on land with poor soil or as part of an existing building.

Point-supported Structures

These are dramatic-looking structures with at least four points of attachment which can have curved or straight edges. These provide a clear span without a central mast. The fabric is supported either by an exterior frame, adjacent building or perimeter masts. Several point-supported structures can be combined with a common mast to create larger spaces.

Ways to Use Fabric Tensile Structures

Any of these types of fabric tensile structures can be used in schools to provide additional space for a variety of uses. School canopies, like those at, can create a classroom or create an outdoor space which can be used when the weather is not so good or as shade when sunny.

You can see examples of these structures around the world, including The O2 in London, Denver International Airport in the USA, Scandinavium in Gothenburg, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo, the London Soccerdome and Butlins Skyline Pavilion in Minehead.

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