Several of our projects include air-supported membrane structures, more commonly known as “bubbles”. These structures consist of fabric membrane held down (anchored) to a solid base (a concrete grade beam or the side of a building) and inflated by fans.
Surprisingly, it takes less than 2 psi to keep a bubble inflated (as a comparison: a typical car tire is inflated to 30 psi). As long as the fan is blowing and the membrane is intact, the building stays upright; remove the pressure induced by the fan or create a large opening, however, and the structure collapses.
The membrane can be translucent or opaque or a combination of different fabrics. The choice of fabric controls the amount of natural light that enters and also energy loss. Depending on need, bubbles can be seasonal, erected in the fall to protect a sports venue from cold weather and removed in the spring to allow play to continue during the warmer seasons. Some stay up year-round, though this is somewhat rare because of the cost to cool the enclosure.
The initial cost for bubbles are fairly low compared to buildings of other materials similar size, however long-term operating costs tend to be higher due to the energy needed to maintain their shape.