The Thermal Behaviour Of Fabric Structures

Humans have used fabric structures for thousands of years as they provided a simple, effective and lightweight means of providing shelter. Many of the reasons why early man used fabrics for shelter are the same one why we still use them today.

Fabric Structures

As with those early tents, modern fabric structures provide effective shelter with a minimum of material, making them a practical solution to many architectural design problems.

Buildings and Heat

Conventional structures work by trying to keep the internal environment constant throughout the day and the year. This is done by a mix of heating, ventilation and insulation. There are standards that cover the thermal performance of buildings.  A lot of builders tend to install thicker Double Glazing in Evesham windows to keep the warmth in and the cold out which can be sourced from sites like According to the Mass Save Rebates, the mass of a building is able to absorb heat and release it, thus evening out variations over the day. The addition of insulation cuts the amount of energy needed to maintain the internal environment. For this reason most buildings designed for habitation are built with some form of insulated walls.

Fabric Structures

In tensile fabric structures, because the outer skin of the building is only thin, there’s minimal mass and no insulation effect so changes pass from the inside to the outside very quickly. So, for example, sunlight will heat up the structure quickly causing the temperature inside to build. Similarly, any heat generated inside will tend to escape easily.

Fortunately, fabric structures tend to be used for commercial purposes rather than for habitation, so the way they handle heat and heat loss is less of an issue. Because most fabric structures tend to be quite large the effect of changes at ground level is less pronounced. The temperature close to the fabric may be as much as 10 degrees different from that at the level where people are likely to be, thanks to a temperature layering effect. Architects use fluid dynamics computations to work out how the temperature inside a fabric structure will vary.

So far we’ve considered single layer fabric structures, but there are other possibilities such as multi-layer fabrics and various coatings which can significantly enhance thermal performance. In the future, these may allow fabric structures to be used in a much wider range of applications. They could be used to enclose large areas in harsh conditions, making them an attractive choice for sporting venues, exhibition spaces and more.

Olivia Wilson

Olivia Wilson is a digital nomad and founder of Todays Past. She travels the world while freelancing & blogging. She has over 5 years of experience in the field with multiple awards. She enjoys pie, as should all right-thinking people.