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Covering all the bases

Features, Tents | October 1, 2014 | By:

Today’s tents and fabric structures aren’t just safe shelter; they’ve become key contributors to memorable events and are providing semi-permanent and permanent structural solutions.

“Give me something different.” It’s a request event planners have been fielding much more often. Although it’s always been desirable that tents should make a good first impression—after all, an aesthetically unappealing tent would hardly set the right tone for any event—in the past, once this basic requirement was met, their primary job was providing shelter, and doing so safely. But these days, more is being asked of tents and fabric structures, especially for higher-end events.

“At the most exclusive levels of the industry, we’re seeing a marked change in specialized event work utilizing custom tents and fabric structures,” says Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents. Located in Torrance, Calif., Aztec produces tents and structures for a variety of end users, among them hotels, event rental companies, award shows and even films, such as the 2011 movie “Water for Elephants.”

“These custom elements are often developed alongside existing conventional products and technology to create one-of-a-kind custom temporary structures,” Kouzmanoff adds. “These products utilize custom shapes, sizes, textures, geometry and often specialized fabrics, to make a statement of being different.” This desire for something different, and the role tents increasingly play in the event experience, is requiring more of tent and fabric structure manufacturers.

Extraordinary events

“We notice that customers want extraordinary events, and this should be reflected in the whole scenery,” says Jens Brüggemann, board member of the RöDER Group. “So they wish spectacular space solutions, which do not look like conventional tents, with glass walls and transparent roof tarps or fully cladded facades in the individual design of their tent.” Headquartered in Büdingen, Germany, RöDER manufactures mobile and modular space solutions in tent and hall solutions for events and other uses, such as logistics, production, trade shows and the military.

Brüggemann mentions that two-story VIP hospitality tent systems are in high demand, especially at sporting events, since these afford sponsors and celebrities a good view of the action (RöDER also offers a mobile and modular three-story event tent).

Chad Struthers, vice president of Warner Shelter Systems Ltd., says he’s seeing widespread adoption of two-story tents. Located in Calgary, Alb., Canada, the company manufactures engineered party tents and fabric-clad structures. He has also noticed that the demand for clear walls and tops, which became more prevalent three or four years ago, has really picked up.

“When it comes to tented structures for events, clients are always looking for something bigger, better and different,” says Struthers. “For example, this year we manufactured an L-shaped tent of staggered height for a company displaying at the Global Petroleum Show here in Calgary.

“For the previous three years, this company had covered their booth space with a very large tent, and the equipment was situated out in front of that structure,” he continues. “For this year’s show, about 65 percent of the equipment was outside; the foyer and the greeting areas were inside the tent, which also had clear walls in the front.”

This also illustrates the trend toward customization, which is also on the upswing, says Struthers, mentioning that they receive about two or three calls a week for custom work.

Demand and supply

Tent manufacturers are noticing additional trends in the industry. Gordon Myers, vice president of global sales and marketing for Creative Tent International Inc., says they’re continuing to experience increased interest from all verticals for their U.S.-made products. Located in Henderson, Nev., the company provides U.S.-made, engineered tension fabric structures to commercial, industrial and military markets worldwide.

Spencer Etzel, tent division director for Rainier Industries, a Tukwila, Wash.-based tent and branded-environments design, engineering and fabrication company, describes several key trends, including:

  • The introduction of coated PVC fabrics with top-coated surfaces. “These could effectively double the life of tent top vinyl,” says Etzel, noting that this new generation of coated PVC fabric provides a greater value because it will last “years and years” longer than lower-priced equipment serving the same purpose—a potentially potent selling point.
  • A demand for sound-deadening or thermally insulated tent panels, for which Etzel says Rainier has received numerous requests recently.
  • Carbon fiber internal support, introduced by some manufacturers to add strength to structural beams while weighing less.
  • More engineered fabric structures used as event facilities, thanks to the updating and adoption of new, more demanding codes. “These are driving much of the change to engineered, stronger tent systems,” Etzel says. “The good news is that these systems typically install much faster than similarly sized non-engineered tents, potentially saving significant labor dollars.”

Etzel says they’re seeing greater use of lightweight, sailcloth-like tents in certain markets. Curved and rounded roofs, some with overhangs, are showing up as well. Kouzmanoff notes that although the sailcloth tent has been around for years, demand is reaching an all-time high.

What is driving the popularity of sailcloth tents? “The simplicity of the light and its effect as it passes through single and multiple layers of fabric upon simple tension forms,” says Kouzmanoff. “The result creates emotion and a sense of warmth in the event space.”

As for rope and pole tents, they may be on the way out, says Etzel. “The market seems to be moving towards frame tents and away from pole tents due to the inherent stability and strength of the frame design,” he explains. “And frame tents are easier to ballast than pole tents, allowing them to be set in more locations.”

Temporary, semi-permanent,
permanent—and sustainable

Kouzmanoff says technology and product development have resulted in tents and structures that are more durable and faster and easier to install. Improvements, particularly concerning clear-span structures, glazing systems and specialty facades, have “blurred the distinction between temporary, event-driven solutions and permanent construction,” resulting in an increase in the deployment of fabric-clad building solutions for permanent and seasonal uses.

Etzel notices the same trend, mentioning the demand they’re experiencing for custom shaped or custom-configured tents for permanent or semi-permanent installations. “These projects are typically subject to more than the typical oversight and require significant project management, but can result in a lower-cost, great-performing facility,” he says.

More tent and fabric structure applications are emerging and will continue to do so, says Brüggemann. For example, in addition to its event and industrial business, the RöDER Group offers solutions for airplane and helicopter hangars; manufactures, sells and rents lunging halls and riding areas for equestrian sports; and provides environmentally friendly waste disposal halls—a good choice for soil remediation, green waste disposal and composting on any surface.

Tents can help companies meet sustainability concerns, often an issue when it comes to semi-permanent or permanent structures, says Struthers. “For example, if an oil company is using a clear-span tent, this enables them to more easily return the land to what it was when they’re finished since tents have very little to no impact on the ground. Plus, the clear-span fabric lets in the light, reducing the electrical load.”

Tents and other fabric-clad structures with large roof surfaces, such as those intended for storage facilities or events, are also amenable to the deployment of solar cells, says Brüggemann, mentioning that ORGATENT, a RöDER subsidiary, has joined forces with a partner to develop tent tarpaulin coverings incorporating extremely flexible, integrated solar cell modules. Constructed in this way, the solar modules don’t have to be affixed to the roofs—a time- and labor-intensive (and costly) effort. Nor are they simply placed down loosely on the roof.

“Events can be equipped with these innovative solar tarpaulin coverings and with renewable energy, with the photovoltaic cells providing parts of the energy requirement for ventilation or for lighting,” says Brüggemann. RöDER also has a new printable facade system, ALEA 2.0, enabling the delivery of advertising messages, shapes and images in 3-D effects in conjunction with haptic installations.

Driving all of this technological and product development, according to Kouzmanoff, is consumer confidence; there are more customers now, he says, and each is spending more. Additionally, it’s gotten to the point where people need to replace their aging inventories, which they held off doing until the economy and their businesses started recovering.

“Their own growth is requiring them to invest deeper into their inventory and specialize in new product offerings not previously available,” he explains. “Consequently, we’re spending a good percentage of our resources on developing technology to not only help us build better products, but to allow these products to perform better for our clients.”

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer living in Long Beach, Calif.

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