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Answer to space crisis

29 October 2020

Can tensile fabric buildings help mitigate the impact of Covid-19?

Risk mitigation typically begins with identification of the hazards and risks, followed by evaluation and prioritisation. The third step is developing practical strategies on how to best deal with these risks. For the businesses adversely affected by the restrictions as a result of the coronavirus health crisis, devising an effective long-term survival strategy will be critical for recovery.


With changing local restrictions enforced across parts of England, Scotland and Wales, businesses are operating under constant threat of supply chain disruption, surplus stock issues and storage capacity shortages. Following mass closures during lockdown, many sites are being consolidated, fuelling a demand for additional warehousing and production buildings. New hygiene procedures involving cleaning and decontamination also require extra space, along with controlling the flow of the workforce in and out of buildings, one-way systems and use of zoned areas to preserve social bubbles.

Social distancing

Where proximity and physical distancing is an issue, one of the most low-cost and straightforward actions to take is to reduce non-essential furniture or equipment, thereby creating additional space. It may also be possible to reduce the number of employees on site by enabling home working. On the shop floor and in non-office-based roles however, the amount of space freed up this way is likely to be limited. In some cases it will be necessary to completely re-think the actual building where operations occur.

In both scenarios, various options may be considered, such as leasing off-site storage, offices or workshops, gaining planning permission for permanent extensions or even purchasing new sites.

Tensile times

But there is another building solution that is often overlooked. Although tensile fabric structures have been around for 30 years, they are probably still underutilised. Their versatility makes them suitable for a wide variety of applications ranging from warehouses to sports facilities and aircraft hangars. Whatever their purpose, they tend to be selected for the same reasons; speed of erection, use of natural light, reflection of heat from the sun, internal acoustics, and their spacious, modern framework architecture.

Steel Span’s custom-built fabric halls are available with 8-50+ metres clear span width, unlimited length and pitched or multi-hipped roofing - the latter allowing for more room at height. This is particularly useful for applications requiring additional space for bulk materials, high racking or machinery. The steel framework is highly resistant to corrosion, and the translucent engineered PVC fabric makes for a light airy interior and comfortable ambient temperature throughout the seasons.

Energy saving

The 12% translucency offered by the tension fabric allows so much natural light through that artificial lighting is rarely in the daytime. In the heat of the summer, the roof stays 50-60 degrees centigrade cooler than other types material. A range of gates (double, rolling or sectional), pedestrian and emergency doors are available for natural ventilation, without the need for powered mechanical equipment. The strong, rigid frames allow for plenty of design flexibility, such as interior fabric liners and insulation. This makes them even more operationally and energy efficient.

No groundworks

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for organisations requiring urgent space, the high-quality steel frames are anchored into any hard, level surface without needing groundworks. So for larger sites, they can often be sited in part of the car park, or next to an existing building. With fabric structures, it is possible to gain the extra square footage required much faster, and at a fraction of the cost than standard brick buildings.

For those looking at building options during the pandemic, Steel Span's tensile fabric structures offer a host of benefits:

  • Social distancing - utilise existing space on site
  • Gain overspill production capacity and storage / picking and packing
  • Create new disinfecting / hygiene areas
  • Facilitate safe, controlled entry, one-way systems and zoning
  • Stay compliant with Steel Span’s experienced, fully trained in-house engineering team
  • Minimal disruption to site operations

For more information, visit www.steel-span.co.uk