Non-Traditional Structures

In the past structures used for the playing of sport were constructed in ways that followed closely those used in established warehousing and industry.

They were of the traditional type with lifespans commensurate with the materials used.

But there has always been a demand for lower cost warehousing, agricultural and military storage with high and wide spans.

The very characteristics required for many sports activities including tennis halls.

Once, non-traditional structures were looked on as less expensive but also as temporary or limited in life expectancy.

Modern materials, innovation and experience have in more recent times changed this view. Today, non-traditional structures are not only acceptable solutions but, in many cases, the optimal choice for the end-use.

What are Non-traditional Structures?

Here are the broad types of non-traditional structures:

  • Lightweight framed structures
  • Framed fabric structures
  • Tension membrane structures
  • Air supported structures

Framed structures have a steel, aluminium or laminated timber framed superstructure.

This is then covered or clad with a covering material, usually a fabric membrane.

Air supported structures, also termed air halls, have an interior that is kept at a higher air pressure than the surrounding atmosphere. They usually have no supporting structure and can therefore be inflated or deflated on demand allowing temporary, semi-permanent or permanent positioning.

The Advantages of Non-Traditional Structures

Non-traditional structures can span up to 100 metres without supports.

If the structure is clad in transparent or translucent material then natural light may be used to good effect, thus saving electricity.

The time saved in the building of a nontraditional structure is significant.

The foundations (materials and dimensions) needed for construction are also much reduced compared with the traditional alternative.

The framework often provides the scaffolding required during construction leading to more time and materials savings.

Air halls benefit from rapid placement over existing or new surfaces and (those with double skin construction can also incorporate insulation).

Indoor Tennis

Seasonal weather in the UK often makes it difficult to play because most tennis players cannot access covered courts in inclement weather conditions.

A covered court shuts out wind, rain and snow.

However, the proportion of covered courts in the UK is a disappointing 7% and most of these are in
commercial club settings not accessible on a payand-play basis. Compare this with France – 25% and
the Netherlands – 22%.

The LTA approves the use of non-traditional structures provided the materials, design and specification comply with their requirements. They will help to fund projects that include covered courts as part of the development, again provided the development plan follows the LTA requirements.

The suitability of a site will depend on many considerations.

  • Will planning permission be needed?
  • Is the site area sufficient for the construction
  • What are ground conditions? Is the site level
    and of useful composition?
  • Are essential services near to hand (electricity,
    gas, water)?
  • Is there room for storage of equipment,
    changing facilities and car parking?
  • Is site access for construction and maintenance
  • Are there restrictions on the site? Tree
    preservation orders for example.

Non-traditional structures benefit from having the option to let natural light in through their membrane
covering. However, this mainly occurs through the roof. The side walls, on the other hand, may be clad
or constructed using materials that offer security, superior aesthetics, branding and utility.

Add in a modern LED lighting system and play is possible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It should be remembered that transparent or translucent coverings will let light out as well as in. In built-up areas this may well be a major factor in planning consent. On the other hand, if opaque materials are used for the skin of these structures a lighting system will be required whenever the building is in use.

An air hall does require the internal air pressure to be maintained using a fan system. In the case of power outage, a backup generator takes over.

The Surfaces

Once the effects of the weather have been removed through investment in a covered hall, the choice for
surfaces expands to the full gamut on offer from the tennis court construction industry.

Most indoor and outdoor tennis playing surface types can be utilised in a non-traditional structure, but covering the court year-round provides opportunities for surfaces not suited to use outdoors in the UK climate.

Still, moisture condensation must be adequately dealt with to prevent staining and pooling water.

A tennis hall will typically need to have basic ventilation or preferably active dehumidification to deal with condensation.

Maintenance of Non-traditional Structures

The maintenance requirements of non-traditional structures are reckoned to be minimal, but experience shows that everything has to be maintained if it is to remain in the best condition.

This in turn means that regular inspections of the structure should be undertaken, and records kept.

Any damage or problems relating to fabric and structure should be reported and repaired in a timely manner using appropriate materials and methods.

As always, we recommend contacting the company that supplied the structure for detailed advice on preventative maintenance and what to do if any damage is found.

More information from the LTA may be found here:

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