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A checklist for portables

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At minimum, when designing for portability in a fabric structure, architects and designers should keep in mind a number of basic concepts and key questions.

“Concerning portable structures,” says Nicholas Goldsmith, FAIA, LEED AP, senior design principal with FTL Design Engineering Studio, “one has to ask how long the portable structure will be used. Will it be up for one night, one week, one month or one year? It makes a tremendous difference in the design, and for each timeline we would design the same facility completely differently.”

Once the timeframe for the use of a portable structure has been set, there are other basics to keep in mind:

  • Will the structure assembly be modular or self-contained?
  • Does the structure need to fit onto regulation-sized transportation in order to be shipped to the site?
  • What local wind and weather codes need addressing? For example, if the venue is located in a coastal zone, what anchorage specifications must apply? Check local codes.
  • Are there any deployable elements (shade canopy or retractable roof)? If so, then a fabric that can be repeatedly flexed without damage to the material (such as woven PTFE or ePTFE) must be specified.

Each portable structure necessarily will be unique with regard to its intended use and location. Design it to fit.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is an architect/journalist and the former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine.

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