Feature Article - February 2017
Find a printable version here

Structural Integrity

Nonconventional Buildings Offer Savings, Customization

By Deborah L. Vence

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.