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Tensegrity!
August 5, 2007 2:48 AM   Subscribe

Tensegrity! While it was ostensibly invented by Kenneth Snelson, an artist working out of the US in the 60's, his contemporary and once professor Buckminster Fuller coined the term "tensegrity", and went on to build a a few of the structures himself, and took the knowledge he gained on to further pursuits. Most notably, the Geodesic Dome. Here's the good part: How to make your own, and why it's still standing (previously, previously.)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a teenager in Birmingham Alabama, circa 1975, I used to flip through the already well-worn pages of my cherished copy of the Whole Earth Catalog and dream of someday living in my own geodesic dome, with some fabulous bright-eyed hippie chick/earth mother, out in the woods, growing my own dope and tomatos.

Didn't ever happen. But I have fond memories of those early teen desires.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:02 AM on August 5, 2007


Nobody's done a tensegrity post yet?? Damn!

If you want to know the math behind tensegrity structures and geodesic domes, you want to own this book.
posted by DU at 5:30 AM on August 5, 2007


Or go fly a kite
posted by Gungho at 5:35 AM on August 5, 2007


I'm a textile crafter who had never thought to consider the physics involved... Snelson is really thorough and clear in explaining to the non-mathematician/engineer (like me) why the structures are stable. Thanks for this.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:08 AM on August 5, 2007


Very interesting post, thanks The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew. Mygawd that's a mouth-full, or would it be finger-full (typing)?

flapjax says: ...and dream of someday living in my own geodesic dome, with some fabulous bright-eyed hippie chick/earth mother, out in the woods, growing my own dope and tomatos

There's an old run-down, deserted geodesic dome out in the boonies about 15 miles from me (rural Kansas). I wonder if it belonged to someone with your same dream, flapjax...

And why were hippie chicks bright-eyed? Was it the dope, or the tomatoes? Just wondering, because I'm getting ready to go out and pick tomatoes today.
posted by amyms at 7:29 AM on August 5, 2007


I read a long essay online a few years back by a guy who had spent most of his life building domes, for himself and for others. He had been an early dome convert, believing they would solve all kinds of housing problems. He built them all over the place, but mostly out west, I think, as homes and schools and civic centers, many times after putting great effort into persuading people it was the way of the future.

After three decades of building them, he finally concluded the dome was pointless. The economies of scale never kicked in the way he hoped they would, so construction always remained pretty expensive. Contractors didn't want to work on them because they took so long to put up. They leaked -- all those angles let in rain. They were hard to maintain. They wasted space inside because nobody makes furniture for domes -- you have to put your straight couch up against a straight wall. The tone of his essay was a little angry. He had invested decades and piles of money, and great passion, only to end up feeling betrayed by the technology.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2007


I've been bugging my coworkers all week about my new dream to live in a geodesic dome in the desert and leave all of them stuck in their fluorescent cubicle lives.

Maybe flapjax and I should be roomies?
posted by buriednexttoyou at 8:34 AM on August 5, 2007


dream of someday living in my own geodesic dome, with some fabulous bright-eyed hippie chick/earth mother, out in the woods, growing my own dope and tomatos.

And then you recruit a bunch of sex slaves, tell them that Helter Skelter is coming down fast, and go out on the rampage?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:47 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've heard that about the disillusioned geodesic guy before. I don't doubt that weatherproofing "all those angles" was a chore, but if we all started living in domes the technology would catch up. I'm sure early log cabins and huts were sieves too but look at houses now.

The real problem with geodesic domes as homes is that they solve a problem nobody has. We are content with our current architecture.

That said, if I ever build myself a greenhouse or playhouse like I keep thinking, it'll be a geodesic dome.
posted by DU at 8:59 AM on August 5, 2007


You may be thinking of Steward Brand, who was an enthusiastic promoter of the geodesic dome in the Whole Earth Catalog. By the time he'd written How Buildings Learn, he'd sussed out all the problems you mention and disavowed them.

One additional problem with them (one which Brand brings up): They're not adaptable. You can't get out the circular saw and cut a new opening or tack on a sunroom.

Modern platform framing, with wooden 2x4s, is incredibly efficient -- light on materials, adaptable, quick to put up. As DU says, they're not a problem.

And I'd add that I've seen many, many unfinished geodesic domes but never a finished one.
posted by argybarg at 9:45 AM on August 5, 2007


Am I really the only person here who's ever owned a Tensegritoy? It really is the best way to wear a stellated dodecahedron on your head. :)
posted by Orb2069 at 10:01 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


You can make tensegrities out of straws, paperclips, and (small) rubber bands pretty easily, although the rubber bands tend to die after a while.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:58 AM on August 5, 2007


I just toured the Dymaxion house at The Henry Ford yesterday. I'm holding out now for a day when I can change my screenname to Ovolving Tensegrity.
posted by saraswati at 11:17 AM on August 5, 2007


Nice post!

Does anyone know where I can find more directions for structures like this one?
posted by redteam at 1:00 PM on August 5, 2007


redteam, try the book I linked to. It isn't about construction exactly, but it gives many worked examples for models.
posted by DU at 1:29 PM on August 5, 2007


I read a long essay online a few years back by a guy who had spent most of his life building domes, for himself and for others.

Might have been Domebuilder's Blues (from this earlier thread).
posted by weston at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2007


that's it weston, thanks.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:28 PM on August 5, 2007


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