Tensegrity

Tensegrity structure or also known as tensional integrity, a portmanteau term that was coined by Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s. It is a structural principle which is based on the use of detached components in compression inside a net of continuous tension.It is also known as “floating compression”, a term that was promoted by Kenneth Snelson. Each compressed members such as struts or bars do not touch among another and the prestressed tensioned members , tendons or cables for example, define the system spatially. Snelson defines tensegrity as a closed structural system composed of a set of three or more elongate compression struts within a network of tension tendons, the combined parts mutually supportive in such a way that the struts do not touch one another, but press outwardly against nodal points in the tension network to form a firm, triangulated, prestressed, tension and compression unit. Triangulated network are stronger and even more firm, if compared to non-triangulated network. 

Basic tensegrity structure made up a tower. Photo courtesy to LiftArchitects
Basic tensegrity structure made up a tower. Photo courtesy to LiftArchitects
Precedent project  by students of Ball State University
Precedent project by students of Ball State University

Biotensegrity

Biotensegrity, is a term coined by Dr. Stephen Levin, is the application of tensegrity principles to biologic structures.Harvard physicians and scientist Donald Ingber has developed a theory of tensegrity in molecular biology to explain cellular structure.The shape of cells are all can be mathematically modelled if a tensegrity model is used for cell’s cytoskeleton. Cytoskeleton is a network of fivers composed of proteins contained within a cell’s cytoplasm, which is dynamic structure, parts of which are constantly destroyed, renewed or newly constructed.

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The study of tensegrity structure started through geometric remodeling the tensegrity model using digital softwares, to understand the deployability of the system . The basic form of tensegrity is being explored through addition of struts in the cell modules . The basic cell module is then are combined according to geometry tessellation . They were applied on regular surface and also irregular surface ,  while maintaining the structural frequency and mesh tension .

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By using basic cell module of 3 struts, the tensional components were explored both using cables and fabric . The fabric helps in creating enclosures and more aesthetically pleasing in installation. It is still in the beginning of the design by studying the behavior of the system, with the goal to expand the possibilities of design in the future , either for Burning Man or Buro Happold.

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For the next project, the possibility of the tensegrity structures will be explored more and the design will be highlighted on the playful intervention of tensegrity structure and the advantages of this super lightweight system for both proposal for Burning Man and Buro Happold .

Author: Esha Hashim

First Class Bachelor of Science (Architecture) graduate from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) , Malaysia . Currently, she is pursuing her Master of Architecture at University of Westminster, United Kingdom. She is a part of the Diploma Studio 10 at Westminster University School of Architecture and the Built Environment , design studio that focused on analogue experiments tested with digital tools .

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