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Go Long: Are There Practical Limits to Fabric Building Size?

We talk a lot about the width of our tension fabric structures because we can create some impressively wide buildings due to our use of solid steel tapered I-beams. The proven engineering and advanced manufacturing of steel beams that we use allows our designers and installers to build a structure that is both wide and without central support columns that interfere with the usable floor space inside the building. Customer after customer tells us how important that clear floor space is for their day-to-day storage needs.

“The style of the building gives us more useable space and a more robust frame than the other options we considered. Construction was so easy – the crews showed up and were completely self-contained. The entire project was boom – done – easy.”
--Kelly Fisher, Training & Exercise Coordinator and Field Operations Specialist for Hennepin County Emergency Management

“It was designed so trucks could enter and exit in a safe and controlled manner, and this configuration has already saved us time and money. Installation of the infrastructure and building itself was quick and efficient. The end users of the building, in particular, are very excited about the advantages afforded by the new building.”
--Steve McAvoy, INDOT

But what happens when you go long? The engineering for creating a very, very long building is quite a bit easier than creating a very wide structure. Legacy’s longest single structure is about 960 feet long, but we have gone longer by essentially connecting two long buildings together. Only the engineers and designers could tell you it is two buildings; for the casual observer it’s just one very long structure.

Expansion

Adding extra beams and fabric cladding—each section is called a bay—is very straightforward. If you want a very long building, our engineering team just adds more bays until it’s the required length. The one thing to take into account, says Legacy’s Senior Engineer Dwayne Moench, is to plan for expansion of the steel beams due to changes in temperature. That’s easy to do unless are you are working with traditional materials like steel and wood. When the walls and roof panels of your building are traditional materials, expansion becomes a much more serious issue. The longer the building, the more expansion you will get with wood or steel. If you don’t account for that, a traditional long structure can tear itself apart. As the exterior cladding in a Legacy Building is an extremely strong flexible membrane fabric, this concern becomes much less relevant as the cladding maintains flexibility for expansion and contraction.

Foundation

With all structures, and particularly wide clearspan structures, you need to be sure you have a substantial, strong foundation. The solid steel beams of the frame create horizontal thrust, so in addition to pushing down on the foundation, they also push outward. The wider the structure, the more horizontal thrust the structure generates. Having a strong robust foundation is a great investment when you start planning a very wide building.

Curvature of the earth

With the right engineering and planning, there are few limits on how long a building Legacy can design and build for you. At some point you might have to take the curvature of the earth into consideration, but aside from that, you can go a long way with our buildings. There is also a cost savings when adding square footage to your building by adding to the length of a building verses extending the width. Legacy’s design consultants work with our clients to help design the most cost effective building while making sure the design fits their needs.

Of course, this is all dependent on customization. Legacy custom designs all of its buildings, which gives you, the building owner, the kind of structure that meets your needs more specifically. With pre-engineered structures from other companies, you have to choose their definition of a long building. Legacy can go long, can go wide and can go the distance. When you create a building from scratch, the possibilities are tremendous.

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