A tensile structure is a construction of elements carrying only tension and no compression or bending. The term tensile should not be confused with tensegrity, which is a structural form with both tension and compression elements. Tensile structures are the most common type of thin-shell structures.
Most tensile structures are supported by some form of compression or bending elements, such as masts, compression rings or beams.
A tensile membrane structure is most often used as a roof, as they can economically and attractively span large distances.
This form of construction has only become more rigorously analyzed and widespread in large structures in the latter part of the twentieth century. Tensile structures have long been used in tents, where the guy ropes and tent poles provide pre-tension to the fabric and allow it to withstand loads.
Steady technological progress has increased the popularity of fabric-roofed structures. The low weight of the materials makes construction easier and cheaper than standard designs, especially when vast open spaces have to be covered.