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Fabric faith

Bouncing gently on 1.2mm of Teflon-coated glass fibre, Birdair's Stan Kopaskie says he always seems to work on the 'est' jobs - 'the biggest, the highest, the fastest'. He adds: 'Those are the sort of jobs that put a swagger in your stride.'

Kopaskie himself is resolutely laid back about the whole Dome project. 'It's big, but not the biggest,' he points out, meaning that as fabric structures go, the Haj terminal in Saudi Arabia has a bigger total area, although the Dome is the biggest individual fabric structure. A New York- born structural engineer, Kopaskie worked on Haj and on other high profile fabric structures around the world. Like many other modern technologies, he says, the type of fabric Birdair is supplying to the Dome is a byproduct of the Cold War.

'It was developed to protect the radar antennae that made up the DEW- line in North America. What was needed was a fabric with exceptional resistance to temperature and ultra-violet - which is what makes it so durable.'

It takes something of an act of faith for heavyweight visitors to the site to accept his invitation to demonstrate the tensile strength of the Dome's cladding, even though the test panel Kopaskie uses for his regular demonstrations is a lot closer to the ground than the Dome panels proper.

The first fabric structure using this type of material was erected in California nearly 28 years ago and has been constantly monitored since. Kopaskie says it still shows no signs of deterioration, which means the projected 20 year life for the Dome's cladding could be comfortably exceeded.

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