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Using the air (apparent)

By: / Fabric Structures

Inflatable buildings have their own unique advantages, especially portability and easy set-up.

By Bruce Wright, AIA

Inflatable buildings can have some special requirements-such as air pumps to fill the structural fabric tubes-unlike any other type of structure, but they also have advantages for relocatable buildings or rapid set-up for disaster relief structures. David Kelsall, technical director and co-founder of Tectoniks Ltd., outlines what is unique about these structures, and their special advantages.

“There is nothing that can compete with the speed with which an inflatable can be put up,” says Kelsall, “and added to that is its portability. An entire 5 by 10 meter module could fit into the trunk of a hatchback [automobile].”

The structural concept behind most air-tube structures is that it takes far less power to fill the fabric tubes than to fill an entire structure that relies on a flexible roof, such as typical tennis domes. Pressure is kept at between 1.5 to 2 psi to provide the same rigidity as an aluminum-framed structure and provide as much resistance to wind and snow loads. Some other fast facts:

  • Air-tube structures can match or surpass more conventional frame structures in speed of erection, efficiency of energy and material use, portability and size.
  • Structures can be linked to form a series of interconnecting rooms to customize the space to match its function.
  • Fabric covers can have varying opacity or reflectiveness to match different climates.
  • The most common fabric type is PVC-coated polyester.

Fabrication, however, takes forethought and planning. Manufacturing 50 air-tube structures takes about 10 weeks.

–B.W.

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