Tentsile started off as a string sculpture, held up by books in a London living room back in 2002.

I wanted to make a structure that used pure tensile strength from 3 points to create usable space as I thought that a collapsible treehouse could be an interesting option for those who love treehouses but didn't want to by limited to their backyards to enjoy it!

I was still an architecture student at the time and figured that the principles were so simple that someone would have done it by the time I finished school so...it never happened; no one was looking at that space.

I got made redundant after the crash of 2008 and so I thought I would put some time into seeing if the model could be scaled up to hold some real weight. I put a cat in the next one (that was about 3 foot wide) and when it proved workable, I got started on making a full scale version.

The Spider and Giant Tentsiles were huge. Spider had a 10m / 25' diameter and Giant had a 15m / 35' diameter. They were impossibly hard to make as the dodecahedron centre could only be created by painstakingly adjusting the cords that pulled it part. Each cords was attached to a “loom” with 7 ratchets on each. It was like tuning a 28 stringed guitar from a ladder 5m / 20' in the air.

Slowly we managed to put a water tight skin on the structure and insert suspended hammocks into the “arms”. We worked but it was big, heavy and expensive. They did however, allow us to get some marvellous photos and the whole thing went viral when Inhabitat posted our picture. 40,00 hits in one day and boom, we were running.

That is when Kirk contacted me. We met for a coffee (out of all the crazy tent designers in the world, he happened to be 4 miles away) and his product design background became instantly essential. Together, we refined the designed, made full scale prototypes and tested all kinds of materials to make it work. We worked on final tweaks for more than a year after we soled the first one, incorporating customer feedback and designing out reoccurring problems.

Now we have a list of new models that Tentsile will be making over the next few years, each will have a slightly different focus (playful, extreme, ground based... ) watch this space...

Alex Shirley-Smith