Many manufacturers use similar arguments when pitching to clients on the benefits of air-supported structures. The top five:
1. Quick to erect. Air-supported fabric structures are significantly faster to erect than traditional “brick-and-mortar” structures. They do not require permanent foundations and generally need minimal site preparation, and often don’t require planning consent if they are intended for temporary use.
2. Cheaper construction per useable space. Given the amount of material used to build fabric structures, clients get more building per dollar than with traditional construction methods. From an environmental point of view, they use much less raw material in their construction and the fabrics used are often recyclable.
3. Portable/relocatable. Fabric air structures are highly portable and can be transported easily while leaving no permanent impact on the site. When packed for transport, inflatable structures take up much less space and weigh less than alternatives like metal-framed or metal-clad structures.
4. Provide similar strength/rigidity ratios. When properly anchored, air-supported structures are engineered to withstand high wind and snow loads and meet most, if not all, code requirements for these safety factors.
5. Lower carbon footprint. As the energy consumption equation in buildings becomes more refined and measurable, air-supported structures can stand up to demands for improved sustainability. Besides the lower material use and recyclability factors, the time it takes to fabricate and erect an air structure minimizes local impacts, and means lower energy use in transport-to-site calculations. With newer, higher insulation R-values, fabrics used in the construction of air structures today can also compete with traditional built-up roofs to make for energy-efficient structures, a big plus when long-term use is a factor.
Bruce N. Wright, AIA, a licensed architect, is a media consultant to architects, engineers and designers, and writes frequently about fabric-based design.