Building Your Own Tensegrity Structure

It seems that tensegrity structures are trending online, possibly due to the seemingly impossible nature of their construction. The strings appear to levitate without any sound reason, but if you bend them just the right way they’ll succumb to gravity. 

The clue is in the name. Tensegrity is a pormanteau of “tension” and “integrity”. It’s easiest to understand if you have a model in your hand — cut the strings and the structure falls apart. We’re used to thinking of integrity in terms of compression. Most man-made structures rely on this concept of engineering, from the Empire State Building to the foundation of apartment building.

Tensegrity allows strain to be distributed across a structure. While buildings built from continuous compression may not show this property, more elastic structures like our bodies do. These structures can be built on top of smaller units that continuously distribute strain. Additionally, these structures can be contracted and retracted in ways that “compressionegrities” simply can’t exhibit.

How about collapsing the structure? This occurs at the weakest point. Wherever the load has the greatest strain on a structure is where it will likely snap, a property demonstrable in bridges, domes, and even our bodies.

Fascinated? Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to create your own structures.

[Thanks Alan for the tip!]

37 thoughts on “Building Your Own Tensegrity Structure

      1. The idea for “tensegrity” was hardly Bucky’s invention. It actually came from Kenneth Snelson, a sculptor who attended Black Mountain college during Bucky’s tenure there. Snelson developed the idea and showed one of his pieces to Fuller who later slapped on one of his trademark buzzwords and displayed it as his own idea.

        Even the famous geodesic dome may not have been his original idea. I watched an interesting series of videos on YouTube discussing that the first dome of this type was built in Germany for the Carl Zeiss company as a planetarium projection dome in 1924. One of the architects that designed part of the second Zeiss planetarium building was Adolph Meyer, a former faculty member of the Bauhaus school founded by Walter Gropius. While at Black Mountain college Fuller became friends with Walter as well as another Bauhaus faculty member Josef Albers. It is likely that the knowledge of the geodesic dome was transferred to Bucky through these people.

        I’m not sure what to think of Buckminster Fuller anymore. He may have had some good ideas, but his best ideas seemed to have come from other people and some the ideas which he did develop were complete flops. He seems to me to have been a better salesman than inventor.

        1. People who invent stuff rarely tout their own horn because they know what the invention is not good for. They know its limitations. People who simply copy from others and haven’t done the legwork don’t.

          That’s why you can almost invariably tell people who aren’t the actual authors of their inventions by the fact that they’re pushing it so hard. That’s called “innovation” – you take something that already exists and throw it at the wall until it sticks. Any wall.

          These people then generate a reality distortion field around them, because people only see them when they hit a winning formula – they don’t see all those people who failed to turn other peoples inventions into money. Fuller, Edison, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk… you name it.

        2. The Dymaxion Car was very aerodynamic. Able to hit 120 MPH with a stock Ford drivetrain. He put the engine backwards in the rear, flipped the rear axle upside down for the front wheels. A single rear wheel was used for steering. With the front drive and rear steering it could make a turn pivoting around one front wheel.

          What ended the Dymaxion was a very suspicious “accident”. IIRC while traveling to a show one of the prototypes was t-boned by a truck. The truck was taken away before any photos were taken of the wreck. The papers the next day ran stories claiming the Dymaxion had crashed on its own and was unsafe. Fake News isn’t new.

    1. I think this article is very cool and I don´t mind who invented the design, may it be a youtube channel or some individual or wahtever, it doesn.t matter. Maybe you start something creative yourself and post it here before wasting your energy in leaving meaningless comments?

      1. Umm… but wait. We’re not getting paid by those folks. Where’s our slice!

        On Hackaday, the ads you see (that look like ads) are the ads you get. Anything else is legitimately something that one of our writers thought was cool.

        And c’mon, tensegrity stuff is cool.

    1. Its very simple to make out of something like chopsticks. There’s no magic or magnets or anything, just the tension in the middle string is pulling the two triangles away from each other, which tightens the other three strings.

      1. I think the only gotcha there is that the stick/triangle joint needs to be quite strong and rigid, so epoxy rather than hot glue is probably best. Possibly wire reinforcement would work too with a PVA or something, take say 10cm of wire, fold in half, kink at halfway again and splay those legs out, then drill your sticks to jam the doubled bit into the angled “upright” and glue the other two ends into the sides of the triangle. Possibly it could be done with straws and pipecleaners if you keep the tension light and don’t have too much pipecleaner at the angles to add much weight.

  1. Tensegrity is a concept thats been around for decades in fine art as sculptures.

    I really find it hard to believe this is just suddenly trending these have been around forever.

    Have people really never seen one of these? I mean, yes- they are cool, but honestly thought more people had known of these.

  2. I did a search for “Tensegrity” last week, got interesting hits.

    I wanted to know how to increase rigidity of my wobbly Kossel tower extrusions and get rid of resonance waves following printed corners, a result from excited structure resonances from the accelerated effector.

    I wanted to know how well putting a threaded rod down the tower extrusion, and tightening nuts at each end, to compress the extrusion by putting the threaded rod under tension would work. I’m too lame’N lazy to do the math.

    1/8″ rod, 2020 extrusion, 1.3 meters long. How much tension to increase the resonance of 3 parallel towers from ~ 3 Hz to 12 Hz?

    1. You’re trying to work below the resonant frequency, which means the accelerations are always going to cause at least 1 times the deflection due to the structure bending from the forces.

      What if instead of raising the resonant frequency, you lowered it by adding mass to the towers? If you lower the resonant frequency then your system starts to damp the vibrations and the resulting deflections become smaller.

      1. Also, you’ll get better results if you increase the transmission loss of the medium, so basically, filling the extrusion with sand would lower the resonant frequency and eat up the vibrations for the same money.

    2. Quick google to figure out WTFlip you’re talking about and I’m seeing a lot of fishplated corners and extra diagonal braces on big Kossels, so you’re avoiding replicating that sort of solution because??

      1. I love how people are so quick to slander Buckminster Fuller (Wrongly or rightly), yet dance past the fact this picture does not represent a true tensegrity structure. It clearly misses some of the most important fundamentals. It’s 2 solid triangles, with welded struts attached for structural support. All struts must float in adaptive and reactive tensional harmony for it to truly represent tensegrity. If we aren’t going to critique under the actual science of the literature…then who coined the theoretical model at inception is the least of our worries as far as this subject is concerned.

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