A free-span fabric structure (also known as a tensioned fabric structure or a shade sail) is a piece of tensioned fabric spanned between multiple points. The fabric sail can be attached to both existing structures and posts, which are engineered to support large amounts of load. These structures can cover both large and small areas and are particularly appealing visually, especially when post/attachment point heights are varied to create hyperbolic shapes. While the posts for these structures are permanent, the fabric itself can be removed for the winter and during storms. Free-span fabric structures are widely used across many industries and applications including restaurants, playgrounds, seating areas, public parks and spaces, storage and events.
Aesthetics & Shade Art – Free-span structures have an almost unlimited amount of possible design combinations. Multiple sails can be attached to each post as well as to each other and post-placement and height are extremely flexible, allowing us to create intricate designs while ensuring our structures are unobtrusive to your space. Shade Art is becoming increasingly popular in our industry, creating an eye-catching centrepiece that can attract more customers and add to the aesthetic of your space. Structures with more than one sail look fantastic in multiple colours and can be customized to match your branding or equipment.
Post Location & Construction – These structures require substantial footings to accommodate the weight of the sail and the tension needed to fly them properly. However, due to the strength of these footings, posts can be placed in a variety of locations to accommodate the usability of your space or engineering considerations such as plumbing and vegetation. We can also use stainless-steel extension cables to allow further flexibility in post positioning or locate the posts away from the area we are shading.
Large Span Capability – Our posts and footings are engineered specifically to support high amounts of load, which allows us to use large sails spanning over 60ft to create large amounts of shade without having to use posts in the middle of your space. This also enables us to create the maximum amount of shade in a single installation instead of chaining together smaller structures like umbrellas.
Shade Flexibility – Shade analysis is a large part of our design process and free-span structures offer the most flexibility when it comes to shading a particular space. For example, there are many applications where an area needs to be shaded during specific times of the day, we use software to analyse the position of the sun and can adjust post heights and positioning to accommodate your requirements, creating maximum usage of your space throughout the day.
Attachment Methods & Components – In addition to posts, the tensioned fabric can be mounted in many different ways. We can attach to existing structures by either screwing into them or using brackets, which we commonly customize to meet our clients’ specifications. We also offer components such as our flush track, which attaches one side of the sail to a flat surface, this is great for covering entranceways especially when combined with our waterproof fabric.
Weather Performance – When designed correctly, tensioned fabric structures perform excellently in a variety of weather conditions. A hyperbolic shape, where opposite attachment points are varied in height, is extremely aerodynamic and can handle the vast majority of wind conditions as well as increasing rain run-off. Waterproof fabric can also be used to extend the usability of your space well into the shoulder seasons.
Budget – In a lot of cases, due to the engineering requirements of these structures, a free-span fabric structure can be more expensive than our other products. However, we are able to work with a range of budgets and are able to cut the cost dramatically by attaching to existing structures or installing removable posts.
Larger Permanent Footings – In order to tension a sail properly, any posts required for your structure need to have substantial footings to support load and make accommodations for weather conditions. This can cause issues with city land, for example, but we do have a variety of techniques we can use to mitigate the need for posts, such as attaching to existing structures where possible. Once installed, most of our posts cannot be removed, there are also a variety of solutions we can use to mitigate this but something to consider when choosing the right shade solution for your space.
- Advanced Tensioning System – Our ATS system includes a stainless steel cable that runs along the perimeter of your sail ensuring equal tensioning, increased water run-off and zero-stretch, lengthening the life of your structure.
- Triple-Layered Reinforced Corners – Our reinforced corners allow increased levels of tension, improving the aesthetic of the sail and its performance in wind and rain.
- Double-Stitched Seams – Poorly constructed seams can lead to fraying and strain on a sail’s perimeter. We double stitch our seams with high-quality UV-stabilised thread ensuring a clean even look throughout the perimeter of your sail.
- Non-Continuously Cabled Corners – The cable in our sails is terminated at each corner as opposed to running continuously throughout the perimeter, allowing each side of your shade sail to be tensioned individually. This allows for the most even tensioning and the best look.
Posts & Hardware
Posts – We work with local steel fabricators to reduce the cost and time of construction. Posts come galvanized as standard and we also offer an upgrade to powder-coated, which can be used to match the colour of your branding or equipment. We are also able to customize the shape of our posts to accommodate a variety of applications, for example, knee posts (with an outward bend towards the top of the post) are popular where the area that needs to be shaded is the same or greater than the size of the footing area.
Hardware – For outdoor products, high-quality hardware is essential for both the aesthetics and the longevity of your structure. All of our hardware is made from marine-grade forged 316 stainless steel imported from Denmark. High load rated, this material is extremely strong and corrosion-resistant ensuring a polished finish for the life of your hardware.
Fabrics & Colours
Free-span fabric structures are available in the following range of fabric types and colours.
Imported from Australia, the home of tensile shade, Monotec fabric is an industry-leading 100% Monofilament cloth, best suited to larger-span sails over 25ft.
Please note, with some vibrant waterproof colours you should expect a slight change in the colour of the light that passes through your shade sail.