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Types of Fabric Structures

Fabric Structure Terminology


Air-inflated – uses air-pressurised membrane beams, arches or other elements to enclose space. Occupants of such a structure do not occupy the pressurised area used to support the structure.

Air-supported – in which the structure’s shape is attained by air pressure. Occupants of the structure are within the elevated pressure area. 

Cable net – uses a single-layered anticlastic surface made of two sets of closely spaced cables that are orthogonal (or nearly so) to one another. The net usually supports a fabric or pliable

Frame-supported – composed of a frame or frames that form a load bearing structure without the aid of any fabric or pliable material; however, the membrane may contribute towards stability.

Geodesic dome – is spherical with single or double-layered shells made up of hexagons and pentagons.

Grid shell – features a curvilinear surface (synclastic or anticlastic) composed of linear elements configured to form squares, triangles and/or parallelograms. It may be single- or double-layered and sometimes employs in-plane cables for stability and shear resistance.

Tensegrity – (cable and strut) planar or curvilinear, and is composed of short discontinuous compression elements (struts) connected by tensile members (cables) to form a coherent configuration.

Tensile – characterised by a tensioning of the fabric or pliable material system, typically with wire or cable, to provide critical structural support to the structure.


Hip and roof structures – shading system structures that are functional and strong, with a PVC or shadecloth roof membrane tensioned over the frame. 

Hypar shade sails – where the fabric is firmly tensioned and supported between posts with no other framework used. Catenary curved sides are an essential part of the design for tensioning and to create the striking appearance. ‘Hypar’ describes the three-dimensional shape and the design is characterised by alternating high/low posts giving a distinctive twist in the sail. Hypar sails are connected to four or more posts or may be fixed to a building. Due to their shape triangular hypars are often discouraged due to their inefficient shading capabilities after curves have been cut.

Cantilevered shade structures – distinguished by a post being located to one side of the structure giving clear access around the other three sides. They are constructed using a steel framework with a PVC/shadecloth roof textile membrane tensioned firmly over the frame. They are practical and popular for car park structures.

Barrel vault structures – capable of spanning large areas and featuring vertical posts, overhead rafters and ridge beams. PVC or shadecloth roof membrane fabric is tensioned over the steel frame.

Umbrellas – waterproof or shade cloth fabrics are tensioned over a sturdy steel frame. The fabric may be patterned into a curved shape as in a conic design. The top of the umbrella will be capped. Umbrellas can be a single unit or linked as multiple conic umbrellas. The converse is an inverted conic umbrella where the central area funnels water into a central drain. The single mast design of umbrellas is popular for its minimal ground intrusion but strong framework.


Concave – typically used over windows or doors and characterised by inward curvature of front panel. 

Dome – often found over small entryways and windows but can be used in archways.

Elongated dome – works best for long windows or entryways that require a dome awning.

Lateral arm/retractable – typically used over patios and decks. Can be extended and retracted to provide shelter via a manual or electronic control system.

Traditional – comprises a down slanting front panel with or without two side panels or ends.

Quarter round/convex – similar to traditional awning but with curved front panel.

Rounded entrance canopy – supported by at least one connection on the outer as well as the building to which it’s attached.