• Canopy with masts
  • Tensile fabric canopy
  • Fabric roof
  • Tensile fabric sails
  • Play Canopy
  • Removal of key area of original canopy
  • Extensive design and modelling carried out before any changes made
  • Challenging installation

Originally built in 1999 this kilometre long tensile fabric canopy has been an iconic architectural feature of the Kent landscape for the past 20 years.  So when the client wanted to expand the shopping centre and create a more modern shopping environment, it made sense to keep it centre stage however, the new design demanded a ground-breaking process to be undertaken to modify the UK’s largest tensile fabric structure.

Never attempted before on this scale, adapting the geometry of the tensile fabric roof was not a mean feat and required the best and most experienced team to ensure its success. Having worked on the original construction and the replacement of the membrane in 2014, both Architen Landrell and engineers Buro Happold were brought in to develop the pioneering conversion process alongside architects Chapman Taylor and Applied Landscape Design.

The new Chapman Taylor design changed the original teardrop shaped fabric canopy by removing the food court portion of the tensile fabric roof and adding two curved lines of canopy on either side to create an entrance way at the south of the site.

As a true tensile fabric structure, each fabric panel relies on its neighbouring panels to ensure structural integrity, tension and balance so modifications had to be approached with meticulous modelling, planning and care. The project design team computer modelled the canopy in 3D and simulated how the changes in geometry would affect the existing membrane in order to establish how much of the membrane needed to be changed and/or steel structure needed to be adapted.

Removal of the food court canopy meant removal of the 4no. 25m high masts which provided the main canopy support and new steel masts, cables and structure were designed and engineered to take the new form and ensure stability. Instead of a structure which braced itself through 360 degrees, the new canopy focuses significant load at the newly created ends. Here, the tension load that terminates to the ground is a comparable weight full loaded Boeing 747! That resulted in masts so long they had to be transported with an escort vehicle and foundations which measured approx. 15m x 15m – that’s 3 storeys into the ground of concrete and steel!

On site, the size of the steel masts and foundations were to be only some of the challenges we faced. Stabilising the structure with temporary works was essential before removing any part of the membrane. Working with large pieces of fabric meant constant review of weather conditions and programme changes were frequent. Over a period of 182 days on site, the fabric membrane panels were removed incrementally and new panels installed, constantly monitoring the movement and form of the remainder of the fabric membrane to ensure each panel was correctly located.

In addition to the modifications to the existing tensile fabric structure, we designed, manufactured and installed 11no. tensioned sails as an aesthetic feature leading pedestrians from the train station to the shopping outlet and a brand new tensile fabric play canopy which sits at the heart of the site.

The result is stunning and combined with the new landscaping has transformed the shopping centre into a shopping destination suited to the ‘Garden of England’.

We are thrilled to add that the project was ‘Highly Commended’ in the International Shopping Centre & Outlet Centre Renovation category at the 2020 Global RLI Awards. Congratulations to everyone who was involved.

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Architen Landrell, Station Road, Chepstow, NP16 5PF, UK


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