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Too big to handle?

Landrell managing director Lance Rowell says architectural opinions on tensile fabric structures tend to be polarised. 'Architects seem to believe either that they are no more than tents, and not architectural at all, or that they are far too revolutionary and extreme,' he says.

After 14 years of producing sails and theatrical fabrics, however, Landrell's workload is 90% tensile fabric structures - a sign that such structures are gaining widespread acceptance.

The real key to this success is 'cheap and powerful computing,' Rowell believes. But, as the size of fabric structures increases, and the covering becomes more sophisticated, so logistical problems also increase.

Unlike the Millennium Dome, the Butlins Skyline Pavilions will be heated internally during winter. So the covering is 'double glazed' with a thinner internal layer of PVC-coated polyester welded on to the outer layer to form an insulating quilt.

'The largest panels are 2,000m2, half the size of the factory, and everyone from the tea lady to the board of directors is drafted in to fold them up when they are ready to go to site,' Rowell reports.

'When finished, each panel is a 3m cube weighing 4t, at the limit of transportability. And when they get to site there is a problem finding enough people to unfold them - you really need someone every 600mm around the perimeter.'

A major rethink would be needed if they were much larger and/or thicker, he adds. The problem is to maintain the maximum level of off-site prefabrication and minimise the time on site, a key factor at the Butlins resorts and many other projects.

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