Latin American symposium on tensile structures

Now a biannual event, the Latin American Symposium of Tensile Structures has much to share.

The Fifth Latin American Symposium of Tensile Structures (Tens-Scl 2012), was held in September 2012 in Santiago, Chile. Organized by the School of Architecture, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and chaired by architect Juan I. Baixas, Tens-Scl 2012 presented six main lectures and 24 presentations over three days. The Tens-Scl series of symposia began in São Paulo, Brazil in 2002, and was followed by symposiums in Caracas, Venezuela (2005); Mexico City, Mexico (2008); and Montevideo, Uruguay (2011) (see FA Jul/Aug 2011.)

The presentations and lectures were seen by 161 participants from 18 countries and four continents and included topics as diverse as recent projects, basic concepts, new applications and materials, design, software, testing, installation and education.

Uruguayan architect Roberto Santomauro opened the event with his lecture, “The Fifth Material,” which referred to membranes as part of the pantheon of available architectural materials after concrete, wood, metal and glass.

New York architect Nicholas Goldsmith attempted to define what a pavilion is in his talk “The butterfly and its skin,” using a set of carefully chosen examples ranging from exhibition pavilions and music venues, to add-on enclosures such as access halls and stalls. Goldsmith’s message: skins in buildings do not perform as well as human skin but their capabilities for multifunctional enclosures are improving.

In “Taut structures,” Brazilian architect and associate professor at the University of São Paulo, Ruy M. Pauletti showed how tensile structures work. Paradoxically, their characteristics configure the possible form, whereas rigid structures (steel or concrete) provide much more freedom.

Buro Happold’s Fergus McCormick presented the environmentally friendly 2012 London Olympic Stadium (designed by the London office of Populous with Buro Happold). He astonished the audience with the accuracy of the positioning of the last compression ring segment that achieved a tolerance of a few millimeters for a structure the size of 340m by 260m.

Carlos Hernández of Experimental Construction Institute (UCV), Caracas, showed the design of a testing apparatus and procedure for measuring the influence of humidity, temperature and wind on the pre-tension of hypars.

For my own lecture, I presented aspects of the installation of tensile structures that must be considered in a design if feasibility and affordability are to be achieved.

Lectures were presented in the mornings, workshops in the afternoon sessions, including two dedicated to introducing the software programs ixForten 4000 and Easy, used for designing tensile surface structures. In a hall adjacent to the lecture auditorium, exhibitors Chukoh Chemical Industries, Cidelsa, Serge Ferrari, Naizil SpA, Sobresaliente, Synthesis Advanced Polymers Fabrics and Verseidag were on hand. In addition, entries to a student competition (open to architecture and engineering students) were on display. Student projects were to make use of textiles, cable or tensegrity structures. The jury awarded top prize to A. Montes for their “Tensile structure for emergency evacuation systems,” an original idea whose seductive presentation did not disguise the need for further technical development.

The event consolidated the trend that began with Tens-Scl’s 2011 symposium marking the maturity and development of tensile structures in Latin America. Particularly notable was the incipient adaptation of designs and technology to environmental, cultural, material and social contexts. In conclusion, the VI Symposium was announced that would take place from Sept. 8–12, 2014, in São Paulo.

Josep I. de Llorens is professor of architecture and director of the School of Architecture, Polytechnic University of Cataluña, Barcelona.

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