Fabric structures have been in existence since the Ice Age, when simple structures were made from sticks and animal skins to create shelters. These early uses of fabrics show us that they were used for building materials and making clothing. The tent-type structures were useful for many things in addition to shelter; fabric was also used for room divisions and screens.
Royal tents were highly fashionable in the 12th and 13th century, progressing to more elaborate structures to show off wealth in later centuries. Fabric is often used for special shelters today, such as sun shields and canopies on four-poster beds.
Early Tensile Materials
There is not as much evidence of fabric structures from earlier periods simply because early tent material was usually degradable. We can, however, see depictions of tents and fabric structures on cave walls and in old drawings. Tents were popular in areas where there were few materials and where the environment was dry. Fabric structures were used for many of the same reasons we use them today, such as privacy and protection.
As materials and technology became more advanced, fabric was used less often for structural reasons and more for decorative reasons and clothing. In 1823, ropes started to be used as suspension structures and quickly became a common feature of design. In 1918, an “air tent” was invented that was supposed to work as a habitable, enclosed space.
The Millennium Dome
One of the most famous tensile structures in modern times is the Millennium Dome. The engineers opted for PTFE-coated glass-fibre fabric, which is strong and durable and should last for at least 25 years. At first the Dome was disliked by many people, who saw it as a waste of money and even an eyesore, but it has now morphed into the respected O2 Arena, a highly popular sports and entertainment venue.
Today, these structures are available from many providers, such as tensile structures through Fabricarchitecture. These structures are more popular than ever and are one of the most chosen options for engineers and architects looking for lightweight, contemporary design that also has strength, waterproofing properties and high durability.
Lightweight fabric structures are today one of the most popular choices for new buildings and can be seen in many cities all over Europe.