Harnessing The Advantages Of Tensile Structures For Sporting Venues

The architectural and engineering design of contemporary sporting venues has changed significantly in recent years, with lightweight tensile structures emerging as one of the most compelling approaches. Visually striking, functional, cost-effective, and flexible, tensile structures have proven to be exceedingly advantageous for the creation of sports venues for a wide range of high-profile global events – among them being the 2012 London Olympics.

Two of the most striking tensile architecture projects we had the pleasure of contributing to at Fenton Holloway in the runup to London 2012 were the Basketball Arena and the Olympic Shooting Arenas. These contemporary venues are shining examples of the dramatic aesthetic and functional qualities that can be achieved through tensile structures. The structures' lightweight and flexible nature allowed for the creation of easily adaptable spaces, providing optimal conditions for athletes to showcase their talents and for audiences to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

What Are Tensile Structures?

To better understand the versatility of tensile structures, it is important to establish their basic concept. Tensile structures use tension, rather than bending, to establish load-bearing stability, often utilising elements such as fabric membranes, thin metal sheets, and steel cable networks. The material is stretched and held in tension between several points, creating a surface that can withstand surprisingly heavy loads. This can result in a variety of shapes, from simple flat surfaces to complex, curvilinear forms. These materials collectively work together to allow unprecedented design flexibility and safety, enabling architects to create unique, lightweight, and intricately detailed sports venues.

Why Are Tensile Structures A Good Design Option For Sports Venues?

A primary advantage of tensile structures is their ability to be customised to accommodate the specific needs and requirements of individual sporting events – from football, swimming, and cricket to basketball and competition shooting. From powerful acoustics that intensify the excitement for fans to engineered shading and natural lighting that enhance athletes' performances, tensile structures can reimagine sports venues in many innovative ways.

  • Large-span coverage: Tensile structures can cover large areas without the need for internal supports, creating unobstructed views and spacious interiors that are ideal for sports events. This makes them a popular choice for stadiums and arenas.
  • Lightweight and flexible: Compared to traditional construction materials, tensile fabrics are lightweight yet highly durable. Their flexibility allows for innovative and unique designs that can add aesthetic value to the sports venue.
  • Fast installation: As most components of a tensile structure are prefabricated, the installation process is faster compared to traditional construction methods, making tensile structures perfect for tight project deadlines.
  • Energy efficiency: The translucency of tensile fabrics allows natural light to permeate the structure, reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day. Some fabrics also have reflective properties that can help regulate temperature, contributing to better energy efficiency.
  • Durability and low maintenance: Tensile structures are designed to withstand environmental elements like wind, rain, and solar UV rays, requiring minimal cleaning and maintenance over time.
  • Environmentally friendly: Tensile structures are notably sustainable and environmentally friendly, presenting a more ecologically responsible alternative to traditional sporting architecture.

Find Out More

With the rising demand for sustainable, efficient and eye-catching structures in the field of professional sports events, architectural professionals should consider engaging in this distinctive structural system. Get expert advice from Neil Holloway, our lead specialist in sports venue design, by emailing him directly at nholloway@fentonholloway.com.

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