Cladding with tensile fabric is a cheap and fast installation solution

  • 12 Dec 2013

Fabric suitability – up to 40-year lifespan
Industrial grade, architectural fabrics have come a long way in twenty years and the sheer range available from a good number of manufacturers is impressive, some with a design life of up to 40 years.

Suitable exterior grade fabrics are available in a multitude of colours and finishes. A popular choice is mesh fabric which is very similar in aesthetic to the look of a steel mesh. The advantage of fabric is that it is much more affordable than its metal counterpart and it comes with a decent 30-35-year life span.

The cladding allowed the company to control the amount of natural light coming into the building

Being able to specify translucency is also a useful property, allowing you to control the amount of natural light. The example at a Deichmann retail store (overleaf) demonstrates the use of a mesh fabric over clad which is printed to allow for branding; translucency ensures the office retains sufficient natural light (and views out), while at the same time the over clad delivers a fresh, contemporary look.

Rigidity and performance of the chosen membranes comes down to applying tensile principles and engineering to ensure that façades are geared for environmental factors such as wind and snow loading for example.

Naturally, a specialist contractor will specify the right fabric according to the location of the building, its function and the overall requirements.

Applications: modular vs engineered 
Fabric over cladding works well for car parks, retail outlets, schools and business parks – in fact any building in need of an upgrade that can support basic cladding rails. The joy of fabric is that it is suitable for a multi-facetted façade with the clever design of first fix bracketry. It is also a good choice for tying disparate areas together aesthetically: linking a car park to a main building, for example, or covering adjoining plant or service areas which are unsightly.

There are two main approaches for tensile fabric overcladding:

Modular fabric cladding
The first is using a modular framing system such as TEXO from Tensoforma. TEXO is a patented panel system that holds the fabric constantly in pre-tension whatever the environment. This results in an exceptionally lightweight, permanent cladding solution that is prepared off site under factory conditions and then assembled on site using a straight-forward cladding system. The net result is an incredibly
swift build programme which minimises costly site delays.

The printed solution can be easily maintained and updated in a few years time

The example from Sainsbury’s in White Chapel (overleaf) showcases a printed solution that is again a great branding opportunity – something that can be updated relatively easily in a few years’ time, if desired.

The Modular Framing System is a patented system that hold the fabric constantly in pre-tension

The latest  options can carry a double membrane which can have acoustic and thermal properties as well as the ability to back light sections.

Engineered cladding solutions
One of the primary advantages of using fabric for cladding is its creative potential. The ability to use double curvature principles allows for the realisation of more dramatic, architectural façades. The Millennium Square Car Park in Cardiff showcases this to great effect, using back lighting to enhance the aesthetic. So much so that it is a regular location spot for the filming of Dr Who. This effect is achieved with engineered cladding technology, designed according to the individual demands of each project.

An engineered solution is typically used for more imaginative concepts incorporating a 3D element. However, framing systems like TEXO can be adapted too; an example from Shanghai Expo demonstrates how the architect was able to create a natural soft box effect, with translucent fabric and 3D surrounds for the windows set back into the façade.

Environmental performance
A natural assumption would be that a fabric over cladding solution will have lower thermal properties than insulated alternatives.

Research and evidence from existing buildings is surprisingly compelling, however. A study conducted in Rome, on a building using a TEXO solution showed a reduction in energy consumption on heating and air conditioning of up to 40%.

In Holland, a concrete public office building for the Department of Transport, Westraven, added a double layer system incorporating a second skin façade made of PTFE coated fibreglass mesh with the outer layer acting as a wind break and sun screen, while the air chamber in between ensured energy savings. The resulting structure secured several Dutch construction awards.

Essentially, a mesh outer layer has the properties of a string vest serving both to insulate the interior in colder temperatures and offset solar gain
in warmer weather. Furthermore, with insulated double skinned alternatives, the figures are improving all the time.

The writing’s on the fabric
All in all, tensile fabric overcladding has some strong selling points, most notably the cost dimension, offering a less expensive way of upgrading a building which can, in turn, increase rental yields for commercial assets, meet local improvement plans or extend the design life of older building stock.

So if you haven’t considered it yet, perhaps it’s time you did.

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