Project Spotlight: The Williams College Commencement Canopy

About 21 years ago Steve Sperry, the founder of Sperry Sails, was hired to build a shelter for the graduation ceremony at Williams College in Williamstown, MA.  There were specific guidelines for the design in order for the finished product to work well with ceremonial logistics.

What Steve designed was a tension canopy 40 feet wide and 80 feet long that was supported by four poles and four cables that lead from the corners to the ground.  For a canopy that large, the calculations were very precise and carefully planned to maintain the minimal support required.  Those were early days for tension structures, and Steve made models to be sure that such a large scale canopy would be structurally sound.  At the old Sperry Sails building on Hiller Street Steve designed the canopy using a series of sketches and the model for review.

Williams College’s color is purple, and so the canopy is appropriately shaded with contrasting white panels.  Once he completed the full size canopy, Steve installed it locally for further technical modifications.  After passing that final test, the canopy was installed on site at Williams College, and has been used for outdoor graduation ceremonies since then.  Because the canopy is only used once a year it has been in for only two minor repairs.  Two repairs over more than two decades – no matter how often the canopy is used – is something we can be happy about.  Steve picked a rugged and time-faring cloth when he built this structure.

This canopy was one of the earliest Sperry-designed tension structures, and the fascination has grown a great deal since then. We continue to enjoy building challenging, tension-supported shelters, and improving our design and technique.

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