Environmental Sustainability in Design
The essence of sustainable design is to produce products and supply services in a way that reduces the use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact, and lowers carbon footprint.
Architectural fabric structures have been in use since first introduced in the early 1960's for temporary expositions. The major benefits were their ability to enclose large spaces with little material and with minimal impact on the environment. Essentially, these early structures were fine examples of sustainable design. With a lifespan of over 30 years, these fabric structures have proven themselves as permanent having been used in retail malls, airports, sports facilities and schools.
Fabric structures are an idea option with their open, airy designs that allow an abundance of natural light, a high degree of translucency and reduced operating costs. With growing concerns for global warming and climate change there is an ever present need for structures with energy efficiency over the entire life cycle of a building. Architects are using many different techniques to reduce the energy needs of buildings and increase their ability to capture or generate their own energy.
Building with fabric enables the creation of structures with stunning architectural profiles. In addition to providing 'freedom through form', architectural membranes boast unique light transmitting properties that enable an open airy feeling of outdoor ambiance indoors, filling commercial developments, large sporting complexes and industrial facilities with diffused natural daylight. When lit at night, architectural membranes form distinctive and dramatic illuminated structures that enhance the interior and exterior aesthetics.
There are many benefits of choosing fabric structures over conventional 'brick and mortar' structures, some of these benefits include; natural ventilation, breezeways, and application of natural convection, solar heating, electricity co-generation, water storage, water treatment and gray water use. Fabric structures can be orientated to capture views and natural ventilation while providing optimum solar exposure to maintain comfort levels in summer and winter. By selection a building option that is relocatable and recyclable there is less impact on the environment, reduced building costs and allowing for retention of existing landforms and vegetation.
Sustainable Materials Used
Translucent membranes can diffuse up to 92% of daylight by allowing natural light into the structure, reducing the need for electricity and eliminating glare from the sun. The larger the structure, the more benefit to the environment and the greater the savings on building operating costs. The coating options on these structures make them self-cleaning and resistant to stains, dirt and pollutants. There are many membrane alternatives, some with life spans of 30+ years and many fully recyclable with the benefit of durability, reduced heating, cooling and lighting costs as well as the elimination of chemicals due to the fabrics being self cleaning.
Environmental Construction - 'Form Finding'
Most tensioned fabric structures are designed, engineered and fabricated by 'form finding'. This means they are designed to be not only structurally efficient but manufactured and installed with little to no wasted resources and minimal energy use.
Architectural fabric is one of the lightest building materials and can create the largest building envelope. Due to the lighter weight of the membrane and the structural steel, the entire structural system can be shipped to site with fewer trucks and erected with less equipment. Properly designed fabric structures may have little impact on the ground with smaller concrete foundations for compression loads and the use of utility cable anchor technology for tension loads. These efforts can have significant saving when the site is being used for temporary structures or deployable structures where reuse is inevitable.