Why use architectural textiles?

The use of architectural textiles offers a number of advantages over more traditional materials in both practical design and environmental terms.

Design Creativity & Efficiency

Architectural textiles offer designers an almost unlimited range of forms & shapes that can be achieved with reasonable design efficiencies. A key driver of textile architecture is the ability to create spectacular, inorganic, curvilinear 3-dimensional shapes.

Durability & Sustainability

With the development of PVC, PTFE, PVDF & ETFE textiles, the service life of fabric membrane structures now range from 15 to 30 years & greater in some circumstances. The typical life expectancy of a semi-permanent PVC structure is 15-20 years plus. Depending on the textile, manufacturers warranties are available from 5 to 15 years.

Material Properties

Architectural textiles have a number of key properties that influence its useability, including:

  • Strength to weight ratio
  • Light translucency
  • Solar performance
  • Fabric UV resistance
  • Flame retardancy
  • Surface finish & self-cleaning properties

Solar Protection

Specialty textiles offer a range of UV & solar protection options for both humans & buildings.

Fabrics are now widely used for shade protection against ones direct exposure to UV rays. However, designers are now recognising the benefits of shading buildings to reduce the solar gain & heat loads on occupied environments; as reducing a buildings heat load translates into significant air conditioning energy savings.

Speciality textiles are also available which filter the suns harmful UV rays, but do not inhibit plant growth.

Energy Efficiency

In comparison to traditional building materials, textiles are more energy efficient in terms of:

  • The textile production process
  • Fabrication & installation of membrane systems
  • The ability to use natural lighting instead of artificial lighting, with the use of translucent fabrics

Cost Efficiency

Fabric structures offer a number of cost efficiencies in terms of:

  • Economy & efficiency of materials used
  • Speed of installation
  • Re-deployability of fabric structures

Fire Safety

Architectural textiles range from non-combustible (PTFE) to low combustible (PVC/PVDF). All fabrics comply with AS1530 part B standards.



PVC textiles are now fully recyclable with major textile manufacturers running their own recycling programs. Eg Ferrari – Texiloop Recycle Program.

At the end of a fabric structures life, deconstruction is far simpler than more traditional structures. The deconstruction process is also much simpler & more conducive to the re-use & recycling of building components.

Technical Information

Tensile Membrane Structures

Tensile membrane structures are characteristically “lightweight” & characterised by having a small mass to an applied load and are of the following types:

  • Tensile Structure – characterised by the tensioning of the membrane.
  • Frame Supported – comprises a membrane over a load-bearing frame or structure.
  • Air-Supported – a membrane structure supported by the pressurisation of the interior.
  • Air-Inflated – uses air-pressurised membrane support members.
    Cable Net Structure – uses closely spaced cables to provide support for a membrane.
  • Geodesic Dome Structure – Spherical, single or double-layered shells made up of hexagons and pentagons.

Fabric Types

Membrane Materials – FABRIC and FOILS.

There are a multitude of fabrics and foils that are suitable to be used for Tension Membrane Structures.

We call them “TENSILE FABRIC STRUCTURES” for ease of reference, for strictly speaking the Foils (like ETFE ) are not a woven product, not “fabrics” as such.

Sometimes membrane materials are chosen to be the most suitable for a specific job.

However because there is such a large variety available, we have listed only the most common and widely used types of fabric.

Polyester Reinforced PVC  (Architectural PVC)

These fabrics rely on the polyester reinforcing to supply the strength, The PVC is the material in which the polyester fibres are embedded. The PVC, which is exposed to the elements, relies on sophisticated surface treatments to provide enhanced UV resistance, and self-cleaning properties. ( in rainy conditions )

These surface treatments can be Tedlar, Acrylic and  PVDF, the latter can be enhanced by the use of titanium. 

The Architectural  PVC fabrics are most widely used, are cost-effective and can be recycled.

The life expectancy of these fabrics ranges from 15 to 30 years depending on the specific type. Warranties (for structural integrity) can be as long as 20 years, and some even 25 years, mostly at a declining scale towards the later years of the warranty period.

The Architectural  PVC fabrics are when regular maintained (mainly washing down), very durable and have better warranties than most conventional roof materials.

PTFE, Teflon coated Glass Fibre.

This is a very durable membrane with a life expectancy of 30 years plus, it is non-combustible. This fabric is inert to most atmospheric conditions. It is ideally suited for structures that need to look after themselves because of remoteness or when they are very difficult to reach because of great heights. 


ETFE foils can be used as inflated cushions, which will provide shape stability. Single layers of ETFE are also possible but need to be restricted in size or be supported by cables. ETFE has truly excellent self-cleaning properties and a very high translucency which makes it ideal to be used instead of glass, without the high self-weight of glass. 

Glass roofing also needs a very stiff support structure as it cannot cope with displacements, (deflections) which causes the support structure to turn out rather heavy. 

As ETFE is very flexible and has a high tolerance for elongation, (yield) it can be designed in combination with a strong but rather flexible support structure and thus benefit from proper tension membrane design principles, where membranes and support structures are designed and work in unison. 

Compared to PVC and PTFE it has less favourable mechanical properties and is more easily damaged (perforated) than the aforementioned fabrics.

However, it is IDEALLY suited and also very economical for the replacement of existing glass roofs. Depending on the specific grade of the material, ETFE has a life expectancy of 30 years.

Both PTFE and ETFE are substantially more expensive than Architectural PVC, which is the reason that the majority of the Tensile Fabric Structures are designed and built using this material.

There are many other types of FABRICS and FOILS, normally they will be proposed by Fabric Structures (FS) when specific applications need to be resolved.


Specific properties – non-flammable, UV resistant, opaque to transparent, self-cleaning, etc

  • Long Life – 25+ years
  • Redeployable
  • Acoustic qualities
  • Recyclable at the end of product life
  • Ecologically efficient
  • Rapid construction – through a high degree of off-site pre-fabrication
  • Ease of transport and storage

Fabric Resources

Serge Ferrari Textiles

Serge Ferrari are industry leaders in architectural fabrics. Their exciting and innovative product range and focus on quality means they are a truly international provider of fabrics in over 80 countries.

Fabric Structures are pleased to be working with Serge Ferrari to produce fabric structures of exceptional quality, durability and beauty.