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New fabric roof improves energy efficiency

Features | September 1, 2023 | By:

Sports arenas, especially college sports arenas, have a challenging mandate to keep up with new technologies and active public usage. Case in point is Syracuse University’s sports dome that, since its debut in 1980, was heavily used by the university to accommodate football, women’s and men’s basketball, and lacrosse.

An aerial shot of the Syracuse University Stadium lit up at night.

Shortly before the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020, the university had come to the conclusion that the 50,000-seat dome stadium’s original roof (air-supported fabric) had reached its design service end of life and needed replacing. The university turned to Geiger Engineers to design a new roof that did not require constant air pressure to hold it up.

The new roof is a first-of-its-kind cable truss that uses both tensioned fabric membrane and rigid panels to cover the facility. “The new roof dramatically reduces the energy usage of the Dome,” says David M. Campbell, PE, CEO of Geiger Engineers, “as it no long requires 24-7-365 continuous fan operation to keep the roof inflated.”

The engineers assert that the new roof “now passively supports as much as 14 million pounds of snow (about 200 psf) without the need for monitoring or snow melting intervention.” The heat loss and gain of the old air-supported roof has significantly been reduced.

When an existing structure requires a new roof, the challenge can be to minimize any new approach from forcing major structural reinforcements that could throw out the construction budget. Geiger Engineers designed the primary structure of the new roof so that the heaviest construction could be executed from the exterior rim while the original dome roof remained in service. This allowed the new roof to rapidly be put into place after the old was removed.

Project data

Client: Syracuse University

Engineering/roof design: Geiger Engineers

Fabrication/installation: Enclos Tensile Structures (formerly Pfeifer Structures)

Fabric: Sheerfill® I [main]; Sheerfill II [secondary fabric], both from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

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