Considerations For Designing A Tension Structure

It’s hard to miss a tension structure . Whether it’s in a backyard or part of a commercial building complex, its unusual, airy beauty immediately catches your eye. It’s a lovely melding of form and function, both ornamental and versatile.

Tension structures are an excellent choice to augment and extend the usability of existing facilities or when designed into a new project from the beginning. They’re gaining popularity because they’re a creative use of space that’s budget-friendly and can often be installed more quickly than conventional alternatives.

But like every architectural design element, there are specific factors that determine whether a tension structure is the right choice for a given project.

You have to consider the practicalities first.

What do you want the tension structure to do? Typically used primarily as roofing, these innovative creations can be much more than a striking visual element. Awnings and canopies are often used as marketing tools, but a tension structure’s very presence can serve as a unique marketing icon.

There are many indoor and outdoor applications for commercial buildings, schools or other campus settings, even private homes. Tension structures typically cover:

  • Entrances and walkways.
  • Outdoor patios and terraces.
  • Indoor atriums and courtyards.

But they can also create outdoor rooms for meetings, classroom instruction, events or performances. Use them to create pleasant outdoor eating areas, cover pools or sports courts or turn an expanse of lawn into a shady place to sit and relax.

Aside from its purpose, there are other questions you’ll need to consider, such as:

  • Whether the structure is intended to be temporary, seasonal for summer shade only, or permanent for multi-season or year round coverage and use.
  • If seasonal or permanent, the expected lifespan.
  • Size and shape of area to be covered, as well as adjacent landscaping or buildings.
  • Local building code limitations or requirements.

A tension structure works where other types of canopies or awnings don’t, especially when you want to cover a large area without a lot of support framing that can be visually unsightly and physically disruptive. Although it can appear almost feathery, pre-stressed tensioning cables of stainless or galvanized steel readily accommodate the load, providing the structural stability and durability needed for year-round use, even in inclement weather.

It’s a good idea to work with an awning company well-versed in tension structure design to ensure you’re considering all the factors that could affect construction and installation.

Then you can move beyond the practical.

Once you’ve determined that a tension structure will fit and perform well for your needs, you can consider the aesthetics in greater detail. The options are many, one of the reasons these structures are such an attractive alternative.

You can design a square, rectangular or triangular shape that conforms nicely to your space. It doesn’t even have to be symmetrical. You can provide soft, diffused natural daylight and a luminous nighttime appearance not readily produced with other types of canopies or umbrellas.

New, innovative fabrics are especially manufactured for good looks and strength under tension. And there are plenty of choices to create a combination of color and appearance that blends subtly or contrasts sharply with the surroundings. Under tension, the fabric won’t creep or flap annoyingly.

You can choose woven mesh that offers excellent protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, or vinyl which is virtually 100% UV-resistant. Either will help safeguard people as well as turf and furnishings from damaging exposure. And you can embellish your tension structure with details such as stainless steel fittings to give it a dressier look.

For the right application and location, a tension structure can be far and away the most creative and appealing architectural choice. So whether you’re looking for an inventive roofing option that’s strictly for shelter or your objective is a signatory element that’s nothing short of a dramatic attention-grabber, a tension structure may be exactly what you need.

Photo Credit: ell brown via Flickr