Structural Integrity

Nonconventional Buildings Offer Savings, Customization

When you want to offer recreation year-round, you have plenty of choices. You can start from scratch and design an entirely new building, but that's not the only way to get it done. Air-supported structures and tensioned fabric membranes are also popular options to provide a place to house recreation, sports and swimming activities. Businesses today are turning more often to these types of structures, which are less costly than traditional construction and offer energy efficiency and customized designs.



The Latest Trends


"Businesses and property owners in many industries are embracing structural designs that go against the traditional concept of enclosed, artificially lit buildings," said Angela Goldrup, marketing manager for a company based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, that designs, manufactures and installs custom retractable roof structures and skylights at distinguished venues across the globe.

"This is in many ways a response to the human desire for natural light and fresh air. Research indicates that between 5 and 10 percent of North Americans suffer from seasonal depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder), with symptoms often caused by a lack of UV light—sunlight," she said.

For example, Goldrup's company provides customized skylights and retractable roof solutions that draw in fresh air and sunshine in ways that conventional structures never could.

"At the same time, our structures can close quickly at the touch of a button in cold or inclement weather, while still letting in spectacular outdoor views. It's a solution that truly offers the best of both worlds," she said, adding that her company's designs have had an impact on aquatic centers, sports clubs, restaurants, shopping malls, zoos, residential locations, hotels and much more.

Businesses and property owners in many industries are embracing structural designs that go against the traditional concept of enclosed, artificially lit buildings.

Jim Avery, vice president of a West Jordan, Utah-based company that specializes in tensioned membrane structures, noted that some trends he sees include the "wow factor," with the "use of exterior colors, unique patterns like checkered, wave, custom team colors" and "the use of daylight—the combination of daylight panels and glazing walls add natural light unique to any other building type."

"Our patented daylight panels in the peak allow for an optimum amount of natural light in peak," Avery said. "This is key as with an r30 9-inch fiberglass insulation system we utilize a double layer of translucent membrane in peak only. You will not find this in conventional construction."

When it comes to energy efficiency, energy savings are a high priority for engineers and contractors designing athletic facilities right now, said Geoffrey Ching, director of sales for a company that specializes in tensioned fabric structures in South Windsor, Conn.

"Athletic facility designers are attracted to structure concepts incorporating emerging and cutting-edge technologies, while providing an experience that feels more natural and genuine," Ching said. "Architects and engineers contact us daily since we are able to respond so effectively to these demands."

Avery added that operating costs are much lower with his company's "air-tight building envelope and high-performance fiberglass blanket insulation system."

Fabric definitely is becoming more popular for athletic facilities, too.

"Fabric-covered recreational facilities provide an unparalleled 'indoor daylight' feel that is preferable to athletic activity and training. White covers permit impressive sunlight penetration while minimizing temperature extremes, reducing energy use costs," Ching said.

Customers also are commonly looking for large amounts of space to meet their needs.

With natural light provided during daylight hours, electricity bills can be cut by more than half, which marks just one of the benefits of nonconventional structures.

"Impressive center peak heights without the need for interior supports create a cathedral feel inside [our] structures and increase the usable space and versatility," he added.

"In today's world, strict compliance with all site- and application-specific load requirements is vital," said Jeff Williams, vice president of sales for a South Haven, Minn.-based company that specializes in custom tension fabric buildings.

"The other keyword would be flexibility. [Our] buildings benefit from mega free span capabilities (300-plus feet wide), reduced speed of construction, and the ability to incorporate traditional architectural and construction elements along with future upgrades and accessories," Williams said.

An example of a fabric structure Williams' company completed is the Oklahoma City Tennis Center at Will Rogers Park Indoor Tennis Facility for recreational, collegiate and professional play.

The 37,500-square-foot tension fabric building, which is 125 feet by 300 feet, includes six regulation tennis courts, a primed steel rigid frame system, frames and bracing system engineer to support an HVAC system, large fans, divider curtains and lighting system. In addition, active and passive ventilation systems were installed for energy efficiency and year-round use. The life cycle of the structure exceeds 20 years, and was installed in less than 30 days. It also can withstand winds of 90 miles per hour.

The Benefits

With natural light provided during daylight hours, electricity bills can be cut by more than half, which marks just one of the benefits of nonconventional structures.

"[Our company's] buildings also provide cost savings on foundation and overall installation costs. Width and height can easily be adjusted to best match the intended recreational or athletic activity," Ching said.


Compared to conventional construction, Avery's company's structures are a lower overall cost. "We are about a third less in total cost; and half the time to build," he said.

Meanwhile, many of Goldrup's company's clients have seen growth in business since opening their newly constructed facilities. For example, Jay Peak Resort's Pump House Indoor Waterpark in Vermont experienced a 120 percent year-over-year growth in guest reservations after opening its new Pump House indoor waterpark in 2011, as well as a 300 percent increase in single-day visitors.

Goldrup's company designed, manufactured and installed its tallest retractable roof enclosure for Jay Peak. The enclosure measures 140 feet by 280 feet and rises 43 feet high at the sidewalls. The enclosure also features a curved cupola at its apex, which houses a 55-foot-high, all-aluminum slide tower designed and built to support a looping and zigzagging slide.

In another example, the end goal of a pool enclosure added to the Woodruff YMCA in Connecticut was to increase its 4,000-person member base to 6,000 over two years. When the new enclosure was opened, the YMCA location significantly exceeded expectations by adding 3,000 new members within just a few months.

And since the new pool enclosure opened at the Mission Valley YMCA in San Diego, income from aquatic activities has increased more than 40 percent, according to the YMCA's executive director.


Speaking of benefits, Mark McNichol, director of sales for a company in Manchester, N.H., which specializes in turnkey daylighting solutions, said all of the main components to a building, canopy and skylight manufactured by his company are made from aluminum and fiberglass.

"This gives a great corrosion-resistant benefit, making for long lasting units for our customers," McNichol said. "Also, with the diffused daylight of the Kalwall panel used to clad the aluminum structure, all the benefits of natural full visible spectrum diffuse daylight are received by the people under or in the unit. There is also a low solar heat gain and a high R-value (up to R20), so there is great energy efficiency for a product which provides daylight to a building."

Rennie Turner, who works as a sports and entertainment sales consultant for the same South Haven, Minn.-based company as Williams, said some of the benefits of his company's buildings include the ability to repurpose for handling future needs and expansions.

"They are also relocatable, green-friendly and have faster construction," Turner said. "And, because all the buildings are code-compliant, they can be used for a variety of events—sports one day, a concert the next, etc. This greatly enhances the revenue-generating capacity of the structure."

Nonconventional Options

In addition to natural light transmission, Ching's company encourages customers to allow natural ventilation by leaving the ends or sides open whenever possible. His company's athletic facilities are able to be designed with insulation if needed.

"Recently, we have incorporated steel siding as an option to create a 'hybrid' steel/fabric design," Ching said. "White covers provide best light transmission, but covers can be accented with colors to match logos of athletic teams and organizations."

Meanwhile, Goldrup's company offers more than just a typical skylight. The company's team of architects and design experts has created some of the most technologically advanced, lightweight and versatile freestanding retractable roof enclosures for venues of every size since 1989.


"Every structure is custom designed and built to meet the customer's desire. The enclosures can take the form of a double slope roof with glass vertical sidewalls or be a lean-to attached to an adjacent structure," said Dave Bolwerk, who works as the director of sales and marketing for the same Ontario, Canada-based company as Goldrup.

The company also builds operable skylights that can open up to 100 percent of their length, telescoping roofs, retractable-walled enclosures, fixed roofs and skylights, and more.

"Each structure is built with aluminum framing, which provides the strength of steel with greatly reduced weight, superior durability and lower maintenance costs," Goldrup said. "This allows the structures to free-span up to 165 feet, or over 300 feet without interior support. All of our frames are thermally broken and resistant to rust and corrosion, making them the perfect choice for aquatic or pool environments."

At McNichol's company the options only are limited by the properties of aluminum as everything his company builds is custom.

"Also, [our company] will do design, engineering, fabrication and even installation (where applicable). Providing a single source solution for what [our] customers want. [We do] first-time projects all the time," he said.

Williams' company customizes to any peak height or location, and any standard architectural features are available.

"We don't restrict the customer to any pre-engineered dimensions or features. [Our] focus is on how we can fit your requirements rather than how you can fit into our restrictions," he said.

Nonconventional Uses

Nonconventional structures can be used for recreation, sports and aquatics, enabling users to take part in activities during any season.

For example, Ching's company has designed structures with customers for soccer, tennis, basketball and multi-purpose athletic facilities. "The versatility of our design has made projects cost-effective for private clubs, universities, towns and residential customers to customize their ideal sizes for activity and budget," Ching said, adding that his company is able to provide turnkey facilities that include full installation. In terms of installation timeline, a 100-foot-wide by 200-foot-long structure can be installed in as little as three to four weeks.

McNichol said recreation, sports and aquatic facilities are using these structural solutions for complete buildings, skylights, sunshades and canopies. "The diffused daylighting and corrosion resistance of [our] products is very advantageous to aquatic facilities," he said.


Goldrup noted that recreation, sports and aquatic facilities have been thrilled with her company's structural solutions. "Many seasonal sports and aquatic centers are now able to operate through all four seasons, offering users the optimal temperatures and conditions of an indoor space while still letting in the open atmosphere of the outdoors. Sports and activities that would normally have to be delayed for inclement weather can now continue in any conditions, thanks to [our] fast and reliable retracting panel system," she said.

And, aquatic attractions such as pools and indoor waterparks enjoy even more advantages.

For instance, aquatic facilities that have Goldrup's company's roofs can rely less on ventilation systems and air conditioning in the summer by letting in fresh breezes and sunlight naturally, saving energy and improving air quality for guests.

"Add to this the reduced need for lighting that every operable enclosure provides, and can save up to 27 percent on energy costs compared to conventional structures," she said.

Turner added that the buildings have wide, clear spans without supporting columns, which means there is plenty of room for sports and spectators.

"Some of the characteristics that set fabric structures apart include the ability to comply with each sport's interior height requirements, a bright liner for high-quality lighting, and the freedom to use them for any large occupancy gatherings or events," Turner said.

An Affordable Price

"The cost of a building is usually the first and main focus of a client," Bolwerk said. "However, while the goal is usually to construct the least expensive building, this can ultimately result in more cost and frustration over the life of the structure.

"Buildings need to function for the purpose of the venue and designs need to take into account long-term maintenance and operating costs," he explained.

For example, constructing a concrete block and metal roof building over an aquatic venue might seem like an inexpensive solution, but will result in high future costs.

"Pools and especially waterparks evaporate a tremendous amount of water and chemicals into the air," he said. "Energy-consuming mechanical dehumidification systems are designed to address the moisture but structural and building materials used to construct the building cannot be ignored."


A nonconventional building is a one-time cost, while maintenance and operating costs continue for the life of a building.

"Therefore, the structural frame should be non-corrosive, thermally broken aluminum to address the moist chemical atmosphere that will rust steel and rot wood," Bolwerk said.

"Aquatic venues have high energy cost to address the moisture and chemicals evaporating from the pools. Incorporating an operable roof into an all glazed structure can save up to 27 percent of this energy cost by being able to turn off the mechanical systems when the roof is open, no air conditioning, no need for artificial lighting during daytime hours and absorbing solar energy when the roof is closed during the winter months," he explained. "Therefore, a nonconventional building may cost more initially, but the additional cost is paid back over time due to savings in maintenance and operating costs."

Ching's customers are able to significantly reduce foundation costs with options, such as his company's unique anchoring system.

Also, his company's public-use athletic facilities are designed to the same building codes that prevail in each area of the United States. "Price per square foot does differ based upon design requirements that are affected by local snow and wind loads," he said.

Depending on the building, cost savings can be significant compared to traditional brick-and-mortar buildings.

"The shorter construction time is also important," Williams said, "as most sports have a defined season and the doors must be open."

Installation Time

Nonconventional structures also can offer quicker construction time. For example, Goldrup's company aims to be as efficient and reliable in its services as possible to make sure the project meets its deadlines and stays within budget.

A nonconventional building may cost more initially, but the additional cost is paid back over time due to savings in maintenance and operating costs.

"While design and construction times depend on the size and nature of the project, and whether construction on other parts of the build needs to be finished first, [our company] has often required less building time to complete installations than standard construction times," she said.

Bolwerk added that the state-of-the-art design and manufacturing process allows for pre-fabrication of the custom enclosures, big or small, in-house prior to being shipped to the site.

"Once all the material arrives, it's a matter of assembling all the parts, resulting in a faster completion time. There is no need for on-site fabrication or welding," he said.

Case in point: The Crooked Cue Restaurant and Pool Hall in Toronto was closed for only a few weeks when a 20-foot-by 48-foot retractable enclosure was commissioned for the upper level. When it finally reopened, the Crooked Cue more than doubled its business over the previous year.

On the other end of the scale, Bolwerk and Goldrup's company is building a 62,000-square-foot operable enclosure for the Epic Waters waterpark in Grand Prairie, Texas.

"While the scale of this project requires a longer time frame, our team has made steady progress and is on track to complete construction by the original finish date in fall 2017," Goldrup said.