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Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Understanding modern tent architecture


When we think of traditional tents and traditional tent architecture–protection from the elements and a safe haven from the potential threats of the wild were the obvious drivers behind the design. Simply put, historical tent design relied on a clear distinction between what the tent provided as an “indoors” and what became the “outdoors.”

Modern tent architecture is different, allowing a greater range of what you might consider in-, and outdoors. This broader accommodation of internal space and external environment plays particularly well in the sort of pristine, wilderness spaces you would expect to find in traditional tents and more importantly, adds incredible value to the experience of the environment, landscape, and the tent itself.

Modern tent architecture and design have evolved to invoke qualities one would normally associate with houses–safe, comfortable, predictable structures. More to the point, contemporary expectations of tents demand this safe, predictability blended harmoniously–indeed, seamlessly–with a wild, unpredictable exterior space that affords the guest something special: proximity, with lashings of comfort. For this mix to work successfully, the tent– if you still want to call it that, needs to be a lightweight and innovative structure that performs like a house whilst providing the ambiance and intimacy of the tent experience.

The successful crafting of such a space is not an easy thing to achieve. It lays down a challenge to preconceived ideas of what is “inside” and what is “outside.” With this boundary erased, first principles suggest this new hybrid space should be defined by new materials, novel design strategies, and innovative structural forms. The result is an evolved inside-outside tented architecture driven by the need for an immersive and transformative tented guest experience.


One of the principal challenges to this new kind of design thinking comes from choices around tent orientation. The orientation of a modern tented unit will influence everything about its experience, from the sense of comfort and safety of the space right through to the longevity of the textiles and fabrics used in its construction.

The intensity of sunlight of a given exposure and chosen orientation can vary dramatically over a season. The planning behind the layout of a camp must include the careful positioning of structures to take maximum advantage of views, and local wildlife habitats, while mitigating climate hazards such as prevailing winds, rains, and sun passage.


The development and design of the tented living space is the natural heart of modern tent architecture. An experience that removes obvious boundaries between “indoors” and “outdoors” saturates the guest in an unparalleled wildlife experience through design innovation and careful balancing of space. The art of tented camp design derives its best sense of harmony through the achievement of counterpoint between five spacial dynamics: lifestyle, transitional, positive, negative, and harmonious spaces.


Where traditional tents relied on the old “us” (inside) and “them” (outside) distinction, modern tent architecture has little use for clear-cut definitions and, more importantly–prefers it this way.

Modern tent architecture seeks new possibilities in what you might call “lifestyle spaces” sunken outdoor lounge decks or outdoor showers connected to an internal bathroom space–liminal areas, covered or enclosed but not both.


Erasing the boundary between in-, and outside, modern tent architecture creates threshold areas that blend the predictable, safe, man-made, and unpredictable, wilderness, external world. A primary design intent in tent architecture seeks to nurture a re-connecting of all senses with the wild through elements such as:

  • Large sliding windows and doors flow seamlessly to deck lounges.

  • Lightweight canvas walls and ceilings that invert the expectation of what is “inside” or “outside.

  • Guests interact with the structure through controllable systems like roll-up blinds and breeze panels.

All of these elements both invite and provide a user-customized sensory experience. This includes the extension or limitation of elements like views, natural light, sounds, smells, and fresh air–while still retaining privacy and comfort.


Conscious design choices influence this guest experience. The choice to linger or move through planned internal spaces is achieved through three “sides in space,”–typically a ceiling, a wall, and a floor. Without well-considered design choices, the consequence might be to create a flat, unwelcoming experience, and used or “dead” space for a guest. Within a modern definition of tent architecture, consideration is given to one (or more) of these “sides in space” to allow for an immersive guest experience as well as provide the welcoming refuge of traditional positive space. This can be as simple, or as complex, as the positioning and incorporation of a private view from a hot tub located in a living room space.


When Tent design choices are done well, they serve to funnel people through narrow spaces to expedite guest movement to positive spaces. When done poorly, these choices create “negative” zones that guests intuitively avoid–resulting in a waste of building materials, construction time, and a squandered guest experience opportunity. Consideration must be given to which zones are experiential additive, as opposed to constrained. For Tenthouse Structures, these spaces are an overture to a journey. They are integral links to a camp’s inside-outside architectural experience.


The considered and discreet positioning of tent architecture eco-developments in a vibrant, fecund, wilderness environment is no mean feat. The low-impact, ephemeral spaces described above are designed to create an enduring legacy, not of themselves but of the environment in which they are situated. This sense of tent architectural legacy is achieved through natural cycles of capitulation and rebirth as opposed to physical permanence or dominance of the landscape.


The Tenthouse Structures design cycle is built around a ten to twenty-year return period in the eco-hospitality industry–typically achieved through lightweight, bionic and demountable strategies.


The lightweight characteristic of tension structures is attributable to pre-stressed natural forms rather than hard materials, in order to maintain their stability.


Our organic forms, color palettes and textured materials blend into nature. Furthermore we employ the underlying structural principles governing these forms.


Our kit form structures are designed to be unbolted, disassembled, relocated and repurposed at the end of design life. Leaving nothing but footprints behind.

The flowing organic curves, the lightweight accommodation components, and the engineered systems that offer privacy and protection against nature, all come together in harmony through these design initiatives.

To discuss your next Tented Architecture project, please click here to contact us.


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