Category Archives: Phase 1: Research

for grouping the posts related to the research portion of the studio


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“There are good ships, there a wood ships, The ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.” – Irish Toast

Sails research


Burj and Bridge

Passerelle Valmy is a unique assymetric cable stay bridge. As the cross-section shows, a mast held nearly verticle by a cable is connected to the deck.

The Katehaki pedestrian bridge also relies on a strong non-vertical mast. In this case, it acts as a counterforce that tensions the cables. Then two cables pull back on the entire system to ensure its stability.

Sailboats have interesting connections that each have a separate but orchastrated purpose, i.e. to utilize the wind to move over the water.

The Burj al Arab, designed by Tom Wright, uses two teflon-coated fiberglass sheets in the front of the building to provide the sense of a sailboat upfront.
The sheets were pre-tensioned and are held in place by a system of curved trusses.

See: Tom Wright Design

A Study of Spatial Curvature

Phase 1- Research

Phase 1: Case Studies Yo



Phase 1: Case Studies


Here’s the PDF version if you want to take a closer look.


After briefly looking into some select case studies, and after feedback from my peers last Wednesday, I’ve decided to explore some of the different functional and sustainable aspects tensile structures can provide, and some of the creative and sustainable ways architects are using these systems.

I think what really got me going about these structures in the first place, is the lightness of these structures as a visual, physical and sustainable approach, using a minimum of materials to impact our environment.

The first project I looked at is The Schlumberger Research Facility by Hopkins Architects. It’s common spaces are broken down into three bays of a fabric roof which covers the drilling-rig test station and the main social space known as the ‘winter garden’. They mutually benefit from the roof form; The workshop needs the height for drilling, and it’s light and shape gives it the character of an outdoor space with ample weather protection for the winter garden.

The roof is supported on the exterior by a “cat’s cradle” (as Hopkins calls it) of cables, which transmits the weight of the fabric to the ground via four structures acting like suspension bridges.

The translucent fabric, PTFE, or Teflon coated fiberglass provides these main spaces with natural light without the blinding glare of the sun. It’s self cleaning and light.

The Second Precedent I looked at which I thought was pretty cool was the newly built Rosa Parks Transit Center, designed by FTL Design Engineering Studio.

It includes a passenger terminal and roof canopy covering a drop off and outdoor waiting area, it’s been said to have “a pivotal role in providing alternate means of public transportation to the greater Detroit area.” I really enjoyed the way the roof structure was designed withstand harsh weathers. It’s durable, easy to maintain, inexpensive and unique.

 Like Schlumberger, the tensile structure is broken down into bays. Each bay consists of a double conical membrane suspended between two A-frame trusses with only two compression members within each bay. Is flowing canopies to create an active visual space and naturally day light the space. “It challenges the conventional notion of roof where the membrane both hovers 50 ft in space, and in other areas brought to ground and to act as a giant water collector. How this works (refer to diagram) Preciptate drains into these grassy areas, then is directed down through a couple layers of crushed stone and rock, and flows into a storage and distribution tank.  In the winter, the heavy snow is directed to the ground and is designed to be shoveled away by trucks.

I also looked at a project in development by Foster + Partners, The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre in Kazakhstan.

It’s 500ft high from an elliptical base to form the highest peak on the Astana skyline. The building encloses an area in excess of over 300,000 square feet within its dome.

The roof is constructed from Tri-Layer insulating envelope of ETFE suspended on a network of cables strung from a central spire. This special material ETFE is different from the traditional PTFE envelope (the material I mentioned before with Schlumberger) It is actually a flexible transparent plastic material (not translucent like ETFE and it’s more insulative)

The layering of the transparent material allows sunlight through which, in conjunction with air heating and cooling systems is designed to maintain an internal temperature to maintain the greenery of it’s urban-scaled park.

Also, as an aside unrelated to the other projects, I researched a special Photovoltaic tensile material which comes in units called the PowerMod 1200M™ made by a company called FTL (Surprisingly not related to the FTL who designed Rosa Parks Transit Center). It’s made of a PVC mesh with solar panels woven into it. From doing some research I found it’s mainly used by the US Armed forces for Expedition Base Camps, Recharging Humvees, Small Unit Operations, and Mobile Tactical Units Such as Medical, Refrigeration, and Communications.

-Its Average Daily Output: 4.5 KWH– About 1/6th of an average homes daily power consumption.

-Operating Voltage (V): 24 Volts

-Operating Current (Amps): 38.4 Amps

Stay tuned for the beginnings of Part 2! I’m excited to start experimenting with these structures myself.

Portable Architecture

After our review last Wed. and Fri. I decided not to look into Nomadic architecture but look more into the connections and materials of the new, high-tech tents of today.

Portable Architecture: Tent Research

Types of Tents

  • Yurt: Circular wooden frame made into a lattice structure and held together by rope and ribbon. Structure is then covered in felt, which is used to keep it in compression along with a heavy weight that is hung from the center of the tent. Primarily used in Central Asia and Northern Africa.
  • Ridge: Classic A-frame design. Stable in high winds but very heavy and bulky. Primarily used by Vikings and militaries.
  • Geodesic: Most influential design in the last century. Very good for rough weather conditions because it can be repositioned without being dismantled. Uses tensegrity.
  • Dome: Most used for camping. Very spacious. Poles meet at the tents highest point to form the structure.
  • Tunnel: Spacious design and can have multiple rooms. Supported by two or three flexible poles, which are used independently.
  • Traverse Hoop: Extremely light weight and usually made for one person. Uses one or two interdependent poles for structure.

Tent Structure

Three Major Components

    1. Outer Membrane: Covers the frame and carries the load primarily though tension. Its main function is to protect the interior.
    2. The Frame: The type of its construction varies with the different types of tents. It can consist of flexible rods that transfer loads like an arch. What the outer membrane is attached to.
    3. An Anchorage System: These are the tabs that connect the outer membrane to the frame by using tent clips and pole sleeves. Also uses rope and tent stakes to anchor the tent to the ground.



  • Carbon Fiber: Very strong and flexible. Becoming the future of tent poles.
  • Aluminum Alloy: Makes up almost all tent poles today. Consists of multiple sections that are joined through an elastic shock cord and then anodized to prevent corrosion.
  • Fiberglass: Has been replaced by aluminum alloy. It is not as strong so it has to be thicker and heavier, adding too much weight to most tents.

Fabric Construction

  • Single Wall: Single layer of a tent cover. Protects from water and wind and it is durable and breathable.
  • Double Wall: Has an outer flysheet and an inner tent. The fly sheet is waterproof while the inner tent is breathable.

Tent Covers

  • Polyurethane Coating: Applied to the tent fabric and makes it more durable and waterproof.
  • Waterproof/ Breathable Laminates: A layering system of different materials to form a strong and waterproof but breathable laminate. Types of laminates include Goretex, Toddtex, Klimate and Membrain.
  • Ripstop: Polyester taffeta with thick threads weaved into a material at regular intervals and helps to prevent small rips.
  • Clear Film: A see through material often used for windows and skylights.

Tent Connections

  • Sleeves: Poles run through them to connect the frame to the outer membrane. Very sound in windy or rainy conditions.
  • Clips: Easily connect to the tent poles. Makes the set up easier but they are not as sounds as sleeves.