Nanogels + Tensile Structures = Insulated Translucent Lightweight Roof

tensotherm assembly photo

Images credit Birdair Tensotherm

Back in 1967 at Expo67 and then at the Munich Olympics in 1972, German engineer Frei Otto wowed the world with his tensile structures, roofs of fabric that could cover huge spans with light weight. Single layer tensile roofs were beautifully translucent, but had little or no insulation value. Air supported roofs, a form of tensile structure invented by Walter Bird, suffered the same problem; as we saw in the Minneapolis Metrodome, when insulated, they lost all of their transparency.

But what happens if you combine tensile roofs made of PTFE (teflon) fiberglas fabric and the sexiest insulation around, Nanogel? You get Tensotherm.

tensotherm photo

Teflon and fiberglass are not the greenest materials in the world, and we saw in Minneapolis that roofs made from it do not last forever, but the compensating benefit is that the actual amount of material one uses is very, very small in comparison to the conventional alternatives. More importantly, Tensotherm has an R-value of up to R-24, 12 times what a normal skylight might have, more than is put on many solid roofs. So you get soft natural light and a high level of insulation all in one product, supported on a few poles and wires. It doesn't get any more minimal.

tensotherm pool photo

Here, they are using in an air supported structure over a swimming pool. Air supported structures are not very green, trading upfront cost for constant supply of power to stay inflated, and would not be shown on this site if not for the fact that swimming pools are just about the most difficult buildings to design because of their huge moisture problems. It is remarkable that a fabric roof could have enough insulation to enclose a pool.

More on Tensotherm at Birdair, found on Materials and Sources via Materialicious

More on fabric roofs and aerogel insulation

Kalwall with Nanogel: "The Light Stuff"
Space-Age Aerogel Insulation: It Is Already Here
Space-Age Tech Coming to a Building Near You: Aerogel as Insulation

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