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Standardized definitions for tents and fabric structures

Structure Basics | May 1, 2005 | By:

Standardized definitions help code officials understand just exactly what tents and fabric structures are and how they differ from rigid structures.

For over a year now, the Building Code Committee of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) has been discussing definitions for terms that affect the industry. The following standard definitions were created for common fabric structures and accessories. With the hope of standardizing definitions across the industry, the Building Code Committee believes this is the start of a simple way to help code officials to understand exactly what a fabric structure is. Also, these definitions allow designers and manufacturers to have one voice in describing their products to code officials, engineers and others who require this information. These definitions were last revised on September 13, 2004.

Air-Inflated Structure: A structure that uses air-pressurized membrane beams, arches or other elements to enclose space. Occupants of such a structure do not occupy the pressurized area used to support the structure.

Air-Supported Structure: A building wherein the shape of the structure is attained by air pressure. Occupants of the structure are within the elevated pressure area.

Awning: An architectural fabric projection that provides weather protection, identity or decoration and is wholly supported by the building to which it is attached.

Banner: A piece of fabric or other pliable material attached to a structure, staff or pole for the purpose of design, information or identification.

Cable Net Structure: Single-layered anticlastic surface made of two sets of closely spaced cables that are orthogonal (or nearly so) to one another. The net usually supports a fabric or other pliable material.

Cable-and-Strut (or Tensegrity) Structure: A planar or curvilinear structure composed of short discontinuous compression elements (struts) connected by tensile members (cables) to form a coherent configuration. Such structures are often referred to as “tensegrity” structures.

Canopy: An architectural fabric projection that provides weather protection, identity or decoration and is supported by the building to which it is attached and at the outer end by not less than one stanchion.

Flag: A piece of fabric or other pliable material of a distinctive color and design used as a symbol, standard or emblem attached at one side or two or more points.

Frame-Supported Fabric Structure: A structure that is comprised of a frame or frames that form a load-bearing structure without the aid of any fabric or other pliable material. However, the membrane may contribute toward the stability of the structure.

Free-Standing Canopy: A self-supporting frame structure covered with fabric or pliable material.

Geodesic Dome: Spherical, single- or double-layered shells made up of hexagons and pentagons.

Graphics: Visual representations used to identify, inform, direct or stimulate the viewer.

Grid Shell Structure: A curvilinear surface (synclastic or anticlastic) composed of linear elements configured to form squares, triangles and/or parallelograms. They may be single- or double-layered, and sometimes employ in-plane cables for stability and shear resistance.

Marquee: A lightweight frame structure or series of perimeter poles and/or masts covered with fabric or pliable material adjoined to one or more structures.

Retractable Awning: A moveable awning that rolls or folds against a building or other structure by which it is entirely supported.

Sidewalls: Sections of tensioned or non-tensioned fabric or other pliable materials attached to the tent at the eave for the purpose of enclosing or dividing the structure.

Temporary Structure: Any structure that will be used for a period of not more than 180 days within a 12-month period on a single premise.

Tensile (or Tension) Structure: A structure that is characterized by a tensioning of the fabric or pliable material system (typically with wire or cable) to provide the critical structural support to the structure.

Tensile Tent: A structure that shares some characteristics with the pole-supported tent but relies on the tensioning of the fabric or pliable material for its structural integrity and shape.

Tent: A structure, enclosure or shelter constructed of fabric or pliable material supported by any manner except air or the contents that it protects.

For more information about the IFAI Building Code Committee, contact Juli Case, IFAI , Roseville, Minn.; 800 225 4324, +1 651 225 6935,

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