A tensile structure is a construction of elements carrying only tension and no compression or bending. Examples of this are cables supporting a membrane of fabric or some other sheet material, or a simple suspension bridge. The term tensile should not be confused with tensegrity, which is a structural form with both tension and compression elements. Tension structure are form of structures in which members exclusively designed to carry tension are major elements in the overall structure. Most structural elements are able to carry bending forces as well as tension and compression, and are hence able to withstands reversals in the direction of loading. Tension elements are unique in that they can only carry tension. In compressive or bending elements the loading capacity is often reduced by buckling effects, while tension elements can work up to the full tensile stress of the material.

Tension structures consists of cables and fabric in tension. The cables carry the gravity loads while stability and resistance to wind uplift is provided by the weight of the roof deck system. The most common type, the cable dome, consists of a center tension ring surrounded by a number of hoop rings which are also in tension, these are surrounded at the perimeter by a compression ring. By definition, the membrane can only resist forces in tension, so forces perpendicular to the membrane cause large deformations and large membrane forces. And this is explain by taking an simple example, 

As a very rough rule of thumb fabric structures are nearly always cheaper than planar glazing and more expensive than polycarbonate solutions.

They really come into their own in large span structures such as the Millennium Dome where the ratio of fabric to steel results in considerable savings over more conventional structures.

For smaller structures under 100m2 they can be relatively design intensive, however there are often pre-engineered solutions which can fit a tight budget.

Some examples where tensile structures are used very efficiently

Office areas as a false ceiling element to diffuse light

As a partition in area like restaurants

As a display in exhibition areas


These tensile structure elements can also be used to accentuate the big atriums


Tensile structure element acting as top covered background element The tensile structure in folded plate form spans large auditorium sapce without any support

Open Air Theaters

Can act as a temporary roof covering in such areas in during day

The tensile structure shading sitting areas and large pavilions in stadiums

Swimming pool
Acting as a temporary shading device providing efficient lighting conditions in such big areas

Exhibitions , Petrol pumps

Roof tops

Canopies , covered pathways

More examples

More examples

More examples

More examples

Some details

Some details

Some details

Structural behavior

Distribution loads

Vertex positions


Distribution of forces

Formation and behavior

Some analysis methods

Distribution forces

Nodal forces

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