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Tension structures in the southern hemisphere

Features | July 1, 2011 | By:

Fabric Architecture’s contributing editor reports on the fourth international symposium on tension structures in Latin America

Held April 6–8 in Montevideo, Uruguay, at the Facultad de Arquitectura (Farq), the IV Simposio Latinoamericano de Tensoestructuras brought together more than 275 students, faculty, professionals and suppliers to the tension structure industry

Nicholas Goldsmith (senior principal of FTL Design Engineering Studio, New York City, N.Y.), the first speaker, addressed one of the symposium’s main topics with “Skin: Biomembranes in Buildings.” Goldsmith talked about ways to approach design: acoustics, sun cover, water collection, adapting design to an area, and form. On the same topic of skin, buildings and textile façades, Thomas Dreyfus of Ferrari Textiles (La Tour du Pin, France), gave examples of recently completed projects (providing many fresh ideas for designers), of buildings covered completely by Stamisol®, a resistant mesh product that has been gaining acceptance and allows views through membrane façades.

A highlight of the symposium was the presentation of the membrane-tensegrity cover for the stadium in La Plata, Argentina. La Plata, a structure designed in the early 1980s but put on hold for economic reasons, was completed late last year. Lectures given by Mauricio Chivante of Birdair and Hugo Larontonda, project manager for La Plata, explained the complicated process of erecting the building. The project is a good example of today’s globalization: the architect was Roberto Ferreira & Associates (Barcelona), engineering was by Weidlinger Associates Inc. (New York City, N.Y.), consultants to the project and supervisor of the fabric roof was Birdair (Buenos Aires, Argentina), and the main contractor was Astilleros de Buenos Aires, with workers from Argentina and South Africa.

Sports facilities are still a hot topic and a main one at this symposium as speakers Knut Stockhusen (from Schlaich Bergermann und Partner, Stuttgart, Germany) presented a 2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer stadium to be constructed in Brazil, and McCormick Fergus (from Buro Happold, London, England) presented a 2012 Summer Olympic Games stadium in London. The only student presenter at the symposium, Diego Jimenez from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Bogotà, Colombia), gave a talk titled “The Success in Relations of Membrane Structures and Massive Events as Olympic Games” giving a historic overview that emphasized the success of tensioned structures at Olympic Games.

For the education portion of the symposium, Günter Filz (University of Innsbruck, Austria), shared examples of renderings of membranes inside cubes (made by his students and himself), poetical, abstract sculptures that helped attendees expand their imaginations. Dr. Juan Monjo-Carrió (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain) said in his talk, “Students interested in this subject [of tension structures] must have certain qualities: creativity, excellent understanding of space and a really good understanding of the physical forces [inherent in tension structures].”

Other highlights of the symposium included presentations by professionals and researchers from all over the world, such as Gerardo Castro (Columbia) who talked about his first steps in the late 1980s as a collaborator on the Georgia Dome (Atlanta, 1989–92), and continuing with his many successful designs of lightweight structures in South America. Or Carlos Hernandez (Universidad Central de Venezuela), who explained his research “Evaluation in the Behavior of Tensile Structures under Variations in Climatic Conditions,” made inside a laboratory.

In summary, the achievement of goals at this event was so important that at the meeting of the Red Latinoamericana de Tensoestructuras, several countries entered into a bidding war to host the next symposium. By votes, Chile and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile prevailed, and the symposium will not be held after the usual three-year wait, but in spring 2012. Brazil will host the VI Symposio in 2013 at Universidad de São Paulo.

Many goals remain ahead for the Red Latinoamericana de Tensoestructuras, including officially linking to the European-based Tensinet (how this will be done is still unknown), and a better integration between the Latin American countries when developing their “Tenso Guides” as a base for construction codes. Currently, in many Latin American countries there are few guidelines for designing and construction in this field, so designers and engineers have to look to North American and European guides.

Based in Mexico City, Mexico, Víctor Hugo Roldán is a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture magazine and is principal architect of his own firm Velarias DRV.

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