university of la verne sheerfill supertents

"The Super Tents": 50 Years of Architectural Fabrics

University of La Verne Super Tents

The Pioneering Architectural Membrane Behind a Californian University Milestone

Unique architecture at a Californian university is celebrated this year for surpassing 50 years in service. The University of La Verne Sports Science and Athletic Pavilion, locally known as "The Super Tents", opened in 1973. Due to the then first-time use of SHEERFILL® architectural membrane, it's still in service half a century later.

At the time, the building was conceived by cash-strapped university authorities in severe need of extra facilities for its growing student populace. They expected the iconic structure to last a few decades. However, the materials used in the project ensured a much greater lifespan.

"This was the first installation of SHEERFILL®, so the life expectancy was an estimate based on accelerated aging tests done in a laboratory", says Michael Lussier, Business Development Manager – Architectural at Saint Gobain Composite Solutions, manufacturers of the SHEERFILL® product.

"The resiliency of PTFE and fiberglass were well known, but the life in actual service could only be learned in the real world."

That uncertainty in the first use meant the builders could only give major warranty guarantees on the fabric for 20 years.

Needs Must

The then President of the university, Dr. Leland Newcomer, needed a solution that could encompass what would have needed six conventional concrete buildings, something beyond their financial scope at the time. The university's officials would not have envisaged the facility, which housed a new gymnasium and locker facility, art studio, theatre, recreation areas, snack bar, student health center, and workout area still being in service 50 years later.

The pavilion has proven physically durable and financially successful, with faith in science-backed construction materials rewarded. Traditional materials would need refinishing and replacement over the years to maintain longevity, and the original costs would have significantly exceeded that of the SHEERFILL®-based tents.

university of la verne supertents wide
university of la verne supertents in background of athletics field

How SHEERFILL® Exceeded Expectations

The materials and construction approach are critical to the building's endurance. A tensile membrane structure requires specialty engineering to ensure the underlying support structure provides adequate support and withstands the forces the membrane will impact on it. A combination of well-designed and manufactured steel, cables, foundation, and attachment details has been essential to the overall performance and life of the membrane. Lastly, and most importantly, specialized fabrication techniques and expert installation help to further contribute to maximum life expectancy.

Lussier says there are three key performance areas where SHEERFILL® influences the building's ongoing robustness.

"First is with safety, as the non-combustible nature of the materials used is permanent and ensures maximum performance when it comes to fire safety. Secondly, the PTFE surface readily releases accumulated contaminants with rain and can be rinsed clean with water during extended dry periods – no need for painting or other regular maintenance. The third important area relevant to performance is the light reflectance of the white surface of SHEERFILL®."

The investment decision made by the university's authorities looks prudent now, given how relatively little maintenance is going into the building over the decades. Apart from a temporary leakage issue where the fabric meets the concrete structure, resolved through resealing the perimeter, repairs have been minimal.

What might be overlooked in focusing on the building's impressive lifespan is it also has a track record in energy efficiency. SHEERFILL® provides exceptionally high light reflectance, which is maintained over the life of the material. The permanent tension membrane has attained an Energy Star Certification and a Cool Roof Rating.

When completed, the building housed athletic department coaches' offices, locker rooms, and a fully equipped gymnasium. It also contained the Art Department, Student Government Meeting Space, Health Centre, Media and Communications Department, Snack Bar, Game area, Basketball Floor, Theatre Arts Department, and stage facilities.

In 2005, the tents officially became the Sports Science and Athletic Pavilion. Parting walls and offices were added. Today, a weight training center and the offices of the kinesiology department maintain the building's link to physical education. A basketball court on the second floor doubles as an event space. The Hall of Fame and an installation about the history of athletics at La Verne solidify the building's link to its history. Finally, the Dailey Theatre continues to showcase the talents of La Verne's Theatre Department. 

On the 50th anniversary of the building, the building continues to be an important one for La Verne, exceeding the expectations of the visionaries that inspired it.

Saint-Gobain Composite Solutions has supplied SHEERFILL® Architectural Membrane for various landmark projects over the last 50 years. Aside from La Verne, they include iconic structures such as Denver International Airport, AT&T Stadium (home of Dallas Cowboys), and Arthur Ashe Stadium (US Open Tennis Stadium). Other notable projects worldwide include the use of SHEERFILL® on the iconic roof of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the “Bubble” Water Cube in Beijing, China.