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Stake it to the limit

Feature | August 1, 2021 | By:

Allsite Structure Rentals installed a tensioned fabric structure for a movie shoot taking place in Swampscott, Mass. The structure, which would be used to film a night scene, required a height of 80 feet. To meet the client’s demands, a 157-by-246-by-54.5-foot structure was anchored atop 60 shipping containers, stacked three high around the perimeter. Twenty large water bladders were packed into the containers for additional anchoring and helical piles were used to keep the containers from sinking into the swampland. Photo courtesy of Allsite Structure Rentals.

Demanding tent installations call for unique anchoring solutions.

by Pamela Mills-Senn

When it comes to tent installs and the anchoring required to keep everything safely in place, every project should be approached with respect since even the most seemingly straightforward can turn unexpectedly vexing. But the need for exact planning, preparation and execution becomes even more acute when dealing with more taxing conditions, such as installing and anchoring on a rooftop, or over myriad underground utility lines, or (most improbably) atop stacked shipping containers. Such are the situations encountered by the companies featured in this article, where we explore the install and anchoring challenges they faced and how they successfully addressed them.

Rooftop anchoring

Located in Stamford, Conn., Stamford Tent & Event Services provides tenting, flooring and climate control for high-end social events. A particularly demanding project Stephen Frost, president, recalls was an install for a fundraising gala on the roof of historic Carnegie Hall in New York City. From 2014 to 2019, the structure went up two to three times a year.

The challenge: The client desired a structure that could be erected on the rooftop, without a crane, that would still be ample enough to accommodate 300 guests while breaking down into components small enough to fit in the freight elevator. The structure also had to meet/withstand stringent wind-load requirements.

The solution: Stamford installed a 52-by-90-foot air beam-supported clearspan structure. There were 50 to 60 individual components that had to be brought up to the roof and assembled once there. Custom steel anchors were designed for multiple anchor points and were attached to the (original) structural steel roof beams. The anchors had to be recessed below the existing roof with stub-ups attached, raising them flush to the roof’s surface so the air beams could be attached.

Initial planning stretched over 12 to 18 months, and involved a collaboration with Pvilion, a Brooklyn, N.Y., design, manufacturing, engineering and installer of flexible solar structures, who worked in conjunction with Stamford on the design and engineering. The install took two days, requiring 12 installers, with the structure remaining up no longer than seven days each deployment

Project benefits: The company won an Outstanding Achievement Award of Excellence from IFAI.

This 52-by-90-foot air beam-supported clearspan was installed on the roof of New York City’s historic Carnegie Hall by Stamford Tent & Event Services. The structure needed to hold 300 guests attending a fundraising gala but could not be erected using a crane. It also had to break down into components small enough to fit in the freight elevator. Custom steel anchors with stub-ups were used to help secure the structure, which had to meet/withstand stringent wind-load requirements. Photo courtesy of Stamford Tent & Event Services.

Permanent anchoring

A memorable install for Lakes Region Tent & Event, a Concord, N.H., tent and event rental services provider for weddings, corporate functions, graduations and others events, involved a local private school that had built a new dining hall and remodeled the front of its field house, says Dan Darling, general manager.

The challenge: The company needed to create a space between the buildings that could host various tented events but not look like an event space when the tent wasn’t up. The structure would cover some grass and patio space, along with walkways. The client wanted assistance with the space design, including a way to install the tent that wouldn’t damage or disturb the numerous underground utilities or the walkway and patio surfaces, says Darling.

The solution: Lakes Region designed the space around a 40-by-100-foot Anchor Navi-Trac® frame tent. Planning began a year in advance of the first install, which occurred in 2019. The tent was placed adjacent to the front of the fieldhouse, lining up with the columns and the roofline. To accommodate ongoing, repeated deployments of the tent and alleviate concerns over hitting an underground line, the company worked with a general contractor and an engineering team from Anchor to create a permanent anchoring system.

Concrete piers were poured into the ground with steel anchoring rings attached to them. Custom decorative steel anchoring rings were also attached midway up the columns, which had been designed for anchoring safety, to serve as anchoring points. One day was allocated for the first tent installation, requiring six installers.

Project benefits: The company had provided the school with tents for many years, but this project allowed Lakes Region to enhance the partnership and to continue providing the school with tents for the foreseeable future.

To accommodate repeated deployments of an Anchor Navi-Trac® frame tent, Lakes Region Tent & Event worked with a contractor and an engineering team from Anchor to design and install decorative steel anchoring rings that would serve as a permanent anchoring system. Photos courtesy of Lakes Region Tent & Event.

Anchoring on containers

Located in Las Vegas, Nev., Allsite Structure Rentals provides tension fabric structures for temporary-to-semi-permanent use, as well as large-scale industrial buildings for various markets, including construction, warehousing, aviation, gyms, movie sets and more, says Jason Cromwell, general manager. In 2012, Allsite was called upon to create a structure in Swampscott, Mass., for the filming of Grown Ups 2.

The challenge: Columbia Pictures needed to film a night scene for the movie but because children were involved, it had to be filmed during the day. A warehouse would work but there weren’t any large enough warehouse spaces available. The client opted for a tent, needing a height of 80 feet, since at the same time this structure was being installed, a complete movie set, including a swimming pool, was being built underneath them, says Cromwell. Extremely tight timelines exacerbated the project’s complexity.

The solution: Allsite went with a tension fabric structure measuring 157 by 246 feet by 54 feet, 5 inches. To provide the necessary height, allowing the set to be constructed underneath them while installing the structure. Allsite stacked shipping containers three high around the perimeter, mounting the structure on top. There were a total of 60 containers, which stacked and locked into each other.

“We then added an I-beam frame around the perimeter—the client set the containers and welded the I-beam frame,” says Cromwell, adding that an Allsite tech oversaw the placement. “The bottom was welded to the containers and on the top, we drilled holes and bolted our baseplates.”

Twenty large water bladders were packed into each container to anchor the structure. Because the structure was being built over swampland, the weight of the building with the water bladders caused the structure to sink several inches overnight, so Allsite brought in helical piles to help support the weight and keep the containers from sinking farther.

“There wasn’t much room on the site, so we built the frame inside and stacked it on top of each other,” Cromwell recalls. “We had to fly the frame up and into position but the containers were blocking the view, so the crane operator was essentially flying blind.

“The arches tended to bow in, so we could get one side into the baseplates but then the other side was a few feet short,” he continues. “We had to use telehandlers to spread the beam and drop the other side into place while the crane held the arches.”

Container placement took about a week; the install of the structure took eight days with a crew of six. Another four days and a two-person crew was required to assist in integrating additional client requests.

Project benefits: The movie industry tends to be more reactive than proactive, responding to issues as they arise, says Cromwell. “This is a much different way of working than I’m used to and so I learned a lot in terms of adjusting on the fly.” 

Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Seal Beach, Calif.

SIDEBAR: Anchoring advice for new installers 

Staking isn’t easy,” says Jim Reyen, business director for Eureka! Tents/Johnson Outdoors Gear, an event and military tents manufacturer/supplier in Binghamton, N.Y. “[But] you’ll find it remains the most widely used and effective tool to hold down tents. A tent can be built for incredibly high winds but that doesn’t matter if it’s not staked correctly.”

Reyen knows of what he speaks. He served on the IFAI Tent Rental Division (TRD) steering committee from 2002 to 2013, and served as chair from 2010 to 2012. He also led the division during the launch of the Ballast Study and helped kick off the Training for the Tent Installer project.

Here, Reyen shares his best anchoring advice for new installers.

Q: What are some of the most common anchoring mistakes you see new installers make?

A: The most common are not packing extra stakes or having backup plans for soft ground and other situations in which the stakes won’t hold their normal load capacity. Also, many new installers don’t drive the stake at the correct angle or in deep enough to achieve the appropriate holding power for the respective stake. This can lead to the tent not being installed tight enough, or causing stakes to pull, or complete tent system failures or injury.

Another common mistake is not having an area properly marked by calling 811 prior to driving stakes, which can lead to damaging underground sprinkler systems, gas lines, fiber optic lines or could also result in injury.

Q: What anchoring challenges can new installers expect to encounter and how should they respond?

A: They’ll always be under pressure to get the job done quickly and to keep up. That means they may feel pressure to use fewer stakes, not stake in as deeply as needed or to bypass a site survey. They may also feel pressure by the end-customer to skip having a site marked if all are moving fast.

Installers should slow down and proceed with the appropriate steps to ensure everyone is safe and that they don’t damage underground systems, etc. They should always stress to the end customer that they’re looking out for their guests’ well-being and for their property, and that the safety steps are necessary.

Q: Any training tips for new installers or for those training new installers?

A: There are many great training options including rental company training programs, events like “Training for the Tent Professional” (TRD), videos, YouTube videos, social media sites as well as industry experts who can help one learn how to properly stake. Also, the TRD’s Staking Study and guidelines help a new installer learn the correct way from the start.

Taking the time to learn how to properly stake and about the various types of stakes used, additional support tools (stakebars), how to test soil, stake angles, how to read blueprints for the required stake loads and other critical stake criteria will not only make one a more professional tent installer, it will save lives as well.

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