Fabric constructions are one of the oldest methods of human dwelling construction and in recent years material advances have begun to see them deployed for many new purposes. These structures now exist in places as diverse as Alaska and the tropics. Whilst thermal qualities of the materials themselves do not pose any insurmountable problems for architects and construction engineers, they are increasingly being employed in types of building where temperatures are a practical issue for building users, or are problematic because they cross the line into new building regulation classifications.
For example, if a tensile structure is wanted as a temporary exhibition space but you wish to incorporate a toilet, you may find your ‘temporary’ building has become a ‘permanent’ one, regardless of how long it’s intended for use. With that reclassification comes a host of different regulations about temperature ranges and energy efficiency.
Thermal qualities are expressed in u-values, and in the UK are covered by Part L of the Design and Build Regulations which were updated substantially in 2013 – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/conservation-of-fuel-and-power-approved-document-l. Many of the updates are part of government initiatives to meet energy conservation targets. The u-value requirements for your permanent building will now be around 0.2W/m2k as they are for brick and steel constructions.
A challenge for fabric architects, especially in large structures, is that interior heat distribution under different weather conditions is very complex. This is now tackled by advanced computer modelling, so anyone considering this kind of building must seek out a specialist company like spatialstructures who are experts in this field and will share valued information to anyone interested in Tensile Fabric Structures.
Solutions involve layering fabrics with insulators, controlling translucency and dynamic control of air-flow. It’s now possible to build tensile structures capable of matching the high thermal values of conventional roofs, whilst retaining all the virtues of sculptural form, economy and lightweight span that typify fabric ones.
Translucent fabrics like PTFE, ePTFE and ETFE admit natural light reducing energy expenditure for lighting. New insulating materials in light colours reflect heat, reducing heat entry in hot weather and heat loss in cold. Photovoltaic cells can even be integrated in order to generate green energy, and the latest fabrics and their supporting structures are designed to be fully recyclable. These high-performance membranes can now be used to envelop almost any kind of building and open up exciting new architectural opportunities.