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Framed Fabric Structures: Light on Materials, Heavy on Strength and Durability

The Allsite framed fabric structure represents one of the most versatile and reliable building structure designs available today. The key components of tension fabric structures are a fabric membrane stretched over a metal frame to form a strong 3-dimensional surface. The result is a structure with a spacious, clear span interior and a building that is, unlike a tent structure, strong enough to withstand wind and other weather extremes. Fabric buildings are relatively quick and easy to construct and can be relocated as needed, making them suitable as a convenient and cost-effective building solution for temporary or multi-location use.

The main framing materials used in the fabric structure industry are aluminum and steel. While steel structures are common, aluminum has distinct advantages that improve the structure’s versatility, longevity and performance.

Aluminum-framed Fabric Structures Outperform Steel

trade show fabric structure

Allsite’s tension fabric structures feature an engineered, extruded aluminum frame designed for maximum strength and durability, making the structure the ideal solution in even the most inhospitable environments, from extreme climates to challenging applications, such as environmental remediation.

Here are some of the characteristics of aluminum that give it an advantage over a steel frame:

Aluminum Resists Rust and Corrosion

Aluminum does not rust or corrode like steel. Aluminum has a high oxidation rate, allowing it to form an oxide layer that slows down the corrosion process. As a result, there is no need to paint, treat or cover the fabric structure to shield it from rust or corrosion as compared to steel.

Flexibility and Strength

graphic render of extruded aluminum beam denoting flexibility, malleability and strength

Aluminum is a ductile metal and is both malleable as well as providing superior strength. It can be reshaped to meet engineering design requirements, which not only results in a more versatile, stronger and more durable building design, but also allows designers to incorporate creative and useful elements that make the building easier to construct, less costly and more useful to the end user.

As opposed to steel frames which are welded, aluminum frames are bolted together, making for a stronger connection and thus a sturdier building. Allsite’s extruded aluminum frame is an example of the precise engineering of aluminum to obtain optimal strength while also achieving a building designed for easy installation and dismantling. Steel is a hard metal and not as ductile as aluminum, which limits its versatility and also can make the structures harder to install and dismantle.

Because aluminum is flexible, the fabric building aluminum frame is able to bend and flex. This allows it to be located on almost any ground surface.  A building with a steel frame, which is more rigid, requires a foundation.

During weather events, an aluminum framed building is more flexible, making it more suitable to handle high winds. The same flexibility allows a the building an advantage over steel in snow events, as the aluminum frame’s slight movement and vibrations allow snowshed to occur more rapidly. A rigid steel frame tends to hold the snow load more like a traditional building.

Energy Efficient and Eco-friendly Aluminum

temporary warehouse structure

Since aluminum is much lighter than steel, it is less costly to transport than heavy steel beams. In addition, aluminum in building design is considered a green product, favored in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings. Aluminum is reusable, as well as easier and safer to recycle and the manufacturing process is less energy intensive than the manufacture of steel. An aluminum fabric building is removable and relocatable, so it can be effectively recycled many times for use at different locations and for different purposes.

With an average fabric lifespan of 30 years or more, the aluminum frame itself has an indefinite useful life.  It can be fully recycled when it is no longer needed. Aluminum typically gets stronger with time, whereas steel breaks down, welds fail, powder coating and galvanizing may get scratched or break down. Once this occurs, steel usually ends up in the scrap yard.

Aluminum-framed Architectural Fabric Structure is Cost Effective

aluminum-framed fabric structure under construction installing the aluminum beams of the frame

Engineered aluminum framed structures are highly versatile and can be used in different configurations in both width and length. Adding or reducing the length of the Allsite aluminum frame structure is simple and can be accomplished without interruption to ongoing business activities. This is accomplished by installing additional fabric panels in the seal between the ribs of the frame. Steel structures typically use one large fabric panel or a few large panels (depending on the size of structure), making changes more involved and possibly result in the purchase of all new fabric.

While aluminum is initially more expensive than steel, aluminum holds a much higher residual value. Steel has a shelf life and so there is not much of a resale market for steel. Most steel structures end up at the scrapyard where the seller gets pennies in return. Aluminum can be used time and time again, so there is a strong resale market for aluminum. While aluminum rarely ends up in the scrapyard, for comparison, current scrap rates for aluminum are .55 to .75 per pound, or $1,100-$1,500 per ton, while scrap steel is currently valued at only $175 per ton.

Aluminum Framed Architectural Fabric Structures are the Smart Building Solution

Fabric structures are particularly prized for providing a large interior space, including ample vertical space, for large projects to accommodate people and equipment or as cover for worksites. They are also greatly useful for their fast availability and easy installation. They are used frequently in a variety of applications such as aircraft hangars, at mining and energy sites, to cover environmental remediation or construction sites, for conference, expo and entertainment events, and in many other applications.  Allsite Structures works closely with our clients from a variety of industries to design and deliver the right fabric structure solution for their project. Contact Allsite for more information on how your project can benefit from a tension fabric structure.

Author Jason Cromwell

Jason Cromwell is the General Manager of Allsite Structure Rentals. He has a degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Jason is a 12 year veteran in all matters related to Tension Fabric Structures with Allsite Structure Rentals and has over 20 years of sales, operations, and management experience. Read more about Jason and the rest of our team at

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