As the old joke goes: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! Or you can get there by creating an air-supported tent designed for Carnegie Hall’s roof, as Pvilion and its collaborative partners recently did to much acclaim.
This inflatable event space incorporates a technology originally developed for military applications, that of high-pressure fabric air beams that are very strong but also very lightweight. If the beams are wrapped in flexible fabric walls, you have the ideal combination for placing a 52-foot by 92-foot by 28-foot-high tent atop Carnegie Hall that doesn’t overload the New York historical landmark building’s structure.
Pvilion’s event tent holds 500 people and is engineered for New York City Building Code engineering and life safety criteria for temporary structures, and is anchored with permanent steel plates that are secured to the underlying structure of the building’s roof. When the tent is not needed and deflated for storage, the anchor points are hidden by hatch covers mounted flush with the wood roof deck.
“We started with a situation that seemed very costly,” says Colin Touhey, co-founder and CEO of Pvilion, New York, N.Y., “that of creating a tent on a roof in midtown Manhattan. The solution was not to use aluminum beams of typical rental systems, but fabric beams inflated to 18psi pressure. This is not only practical—easy to transport and install—but beautiful and inviting.”
Pvilion and its collaborating partners have a track record of designing, engineering and manufacturing airbeam-support tents for the U.S. Army over the past 20 years. With this background, they felt ready to apply the technology toward a practical and cost-effective commercial application for special event usage. “The U.S. Army has been interested in inflatable shelters for a long time,” says Jean Hampel, team leader of the fabric structures team at the Natick Soldier RD&E Center, Natick, Mass., and a partner with Pvilion on the Carnegie Hall project. A key to keeping costs down, Hampel says, both in military and commercial applications, is to deploy a tent rapidly and with minimal personnel. Lightweight fabric tents supported by pressurized fabric airbeams work very well if the airbeams are seamless, like those developed by Federal Fabrics-Fibers, also a partner with the Carnegie Hall project. “Our standard fabric material is a high DSP [density-stable polyester], a proprietary weave polyester,” says Mike Hainsworth of Federal Fabrics-Fibers.
Additional challenges for the Carnegie project pushed all partners toward creative solutions. “The tent needed to cover the entire rooftop,” says Steve Frost of Stamford Tent, specialist collaborator in installation engineering technologies, “but not damage the borders of the landmarked building, or two sides of the roof with glass skylights, as well as a very elaborate planter. So it had to be an inflatable structure, an airbeam. The airbeam is 75-feet long, so we folded it in layers (in a Z-fold pattern), and laid it out to fit within the space.”
Carnegie Hall has now had several successful events in the tent with glowing reviews from trustees, board members, contributors and the media.
“This project represents the first application of high-pressure airbeam technology,” Touhey says, “technology originally developed for military applications, now adapted for commercial tent-rental installations. It required extensive coordinating of permits for wind engineering, life safety and occupancy, foundations, community approvals.”
Well worth it: in addition to the local accolades, the event tent garnered Outstanding Achievement in the 2015 International Achievement Awards.