For those not directly connected to the armed forces, the extent and variety of applications that fall under the broad term ‘military buildings’ may be somewhat surprising; it can include command centres, base camps, mobile hospitals, hangars, canteens and warehouses, to name just a few.
As you would expect however, these buildings require differing build specifications, and can generally be categorised as either operational or ancillary. Some will need to be insulated with lighting and HVAC systems. Others will need to be linked to other buildings, perhaps with built-in electrical and mechanical systems. In war zones and humanitarian emergencies where seconds can count, suitable military buildings must be planned for in advance – and wherever troops are deployed, building comfort and versatility is essential for operational effectiveness. Common denominator requirements for temporary or semi-permanent military structures therefore tend to remain consistent; strong but sufficiently lightweight for rapid set up/breakdown. So what types of military buildings really are fit for purpose?
The classic military tent continues to be a popular choice, mainly due to its lightweight properties making it easier to transport. Drawbacks can include lack of durability in adverse or extreme weather conditions. Some designs may be weakened or even collapse under snow loads and in high winds, although technological advances have given rise to more robust versions. This type of shelter can only be used for smaller span buildings, typically with a maximum width of around 6 metres.
Inflatable shelters can be set up very quickly with a compressor. Air can be lost through the stiched seams however, resulting in the need to replace the air with high-volume blowers that consume additional power and create unwanted noise. Some larger, more rigid versions do exist, most inflatable shelters have a similar clear span width as the classic military tent and are useful for camps, dining and other applications where inflatable beams and soft sided walls are suitable. Expected longevity for these shelters is usually around the 5-10 year mark.
Steel framed tensile fabric structures have been in use by the military for large-span applications for the past few decades, gaining popularity for use as aircraft hangars, large area maintenance, vehicle storage and commissary facilities. The lightweight engineered fabric membranes and galvanised steel truss frames offer many advantages over traditional large span steel buildings. The fire retardant fabric can withstand temperatures of -30 – +70 degrees centigrade and has an impressive tear strength of 250N. The frames are corrosion resistant, the buildings are quicker to install, more affordable, more flexible in their foundation design, easily relocatable and the translucent properties of the fabric allow natural light through, resulting in substantial energy cost reductions.
Steel tensile fabric halls are characterised by their highly durable and resistance to weather extremes
The fabric is tightly stretched over steel profiles mounted to the main structure. The roof structure can be two or multi-hip, and walls can be made from entirely from the PVC coated fabric with foil windows and ventilation holes, or from trapedzoidal sheet and insulation board. The buildings can be equipped with a sectional, rolling or double-leaf gate and pedestrian access/emergency doors. A key advantage of steel tensile fabric halls, despite their large size, is that they do not require foundations. This helps keep building costs to a minimum, both in terms of time and financial investment.
Whereas tents are largely viewed as a transient build, steel tensile fabric halls are characterised by their highly durable and resistance to weather extremes – heat, hail, wind and snow. They also rival many traditional steel and masonry buildings in their longevity. Due to these benefits and more, innovative steel tensile fabric structures continue to sculpt the future of large military applications worldwide. Read more on Steel Span military buildings and shelters.