The Renaissance recently experienced by British architecture and design was given a further fillip this month at the eighth annual World Architecture Festival. Held in Singapore, the awards celebrated architecture, engineering and design from around the globe. Two UK projects – the Olympic Stadium in East London and Wellington College Performing Arts Centre in Berkshire – were recognised by the judges. This encouraging news is accompanied by exciting developments elsewhere in the industry, with a number of firms receiving media and professional accolades for their ground-breaking bespoke tensile fabric structures.

An amazing example of a tensile structure

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Why is tensile fabric architecture growing in popularity?

There are significant advantages, both practical and aesthetic, to this type of design:

1. Flexibility: The membranes used in these structures allow an extraordinary range of design possibilities, meaning that the most idiosyncratic requirements can be tastefully, sensitively and imaginatively accommodated.
2. Durability: The membranes are hard wearing and strong and they are available to suit a wide variety of applications, even in inclement environments.
3. Lightweight: The membranes are light and therefore allow the largest spaces to be covered with minimal additional structural support, which translates into speedy and cost-effective construction.
4. Easily maintained: The membranes require comparatively little day-to-day maintenance, which distinguishes them from more the upkeep of more traditional structures which can be both expensive and labour-intensive.

Diverse applications and projects

The industry has now designed, engineered and installed thousands of high profile tensile fabric enterprises worldwide. These include such diverse projects as the Chandos Tennis complex in North London, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the FIFA Fan Zone at the Brazil World Cup in 2014.

Similarly innovative work has been undertaken at the Etihad Stadium, Aintree and Chester Racecourses, Pensacola Naval Air Station, and Salford University. In many cases limited by space, this selection of engagements clearly demonstrates the flexibility of these fabric solutions. It also highlights the diversity of the organisations which have benefited from increasingly popular architectural choice, with hospitals, academic institutions, sporting bodies and commercial operations all being represented. Examples of installations can be seen at specialists such as

As the economy grows but construction projects remain under tight budgetary control, it is likely that increasing numbers of both public and private sector projects will be calling for bespoke tensile fabric structures.