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Tensile Structures: How Do They Work and What Are the Different Types?

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Historically inspired by some of the first man-made shelters—such as the black tents first developed using camel leather by the nomads of the Sahara Desert, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, as well as the structures used by Native American tribes—tensile structures offer a range of positive benefits compared to other structural models.

Tensile structure is the term usually used to refer to the construction of roofs using a membrane held in place on steel cables. Their main characteristics are the way in which they work under stress tensile, their ease of pre-fabrication, their ability to cover large spans, and their malleability. This structural system calls for a small amount of material thanks to the use of thin canvases, which when stretched using steel cables, create surfaces capable of overcoming the forces imposed upon them.

Predominantly used in coverings of sports centers, of arenas, and industrial and agroindustrial constructions, tensile structures are based on the old systems used during the Roman Empire. However, from the Roman period until the mid-20th century, due to the low demand, usability, and lack of manufacturers of cables, canvasses, and connections capable of resisting the forces generated, there were few technological advances. It was only after the Industrial Revolution and the triggering of the era of Fordism that new developments were able to meet the intrinsic needs of this construction system. The low cost of mass production and the demand for systems capable of adapting to the most varied terrains with large spans, such as circus tents for example, encouraged the development of the technique.

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