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TENSEGRITY

You see models around here which arethese compression members do not touch each other, and if you try them, youll find that these are flexible cables between them. They are not stiff little wires, and they are not rodsthey are literally completely flexible threads. And they are high-tensile threadsdacronso they will not stretch. But we see then, a complex of compression struts that do not touch each other, and the only thing that is continuous is the tension. Now, I became very fascinated in my early days of getting into structures and actually building things, and particularly dealing with boats and the very great strength of the rigging and strength of your ship compared to the kind strength that is usually exhibited in houses. And the differentiating of the rigging of a ship into the compressional spars and the tensional cables and stays, halyards, all the things you operate the ship with. So, Id like to think a little about any structural system. We introduced those words yesterday, so now you know what Im talking about there. We find that there is in the structural systemit is a complex of energy events interacting with one another to produce a stable pattern; but some of them were trying to explode and some of them were trying to come togetherescape the system, and others were containing the system. And, I find then, this phenomenon, compression and tension, that is always and only co-existent. I think lots of people say, I have just a compression member. Well, their compression member is at the high tide of a compressional aspect. It does have a great deal of tension in it, and we say, I have a pure tension memberthats not so. Youll find that tension is also co-existent with compression. To make that clear to you, Im going to then point out to you, for instance, I take a piece of rope, Its very flexible, and the only way that it can give you any dimensional positioning stability would be when you have it tensed. So we take this piece of rope in our hands and start tensing it. And the tighter I pull it, the more vigorously I pull it, the tauter the rope becomes. When we say taut, it means, its girth begins to contract. Thatsso as a consequence of my tensing it in this directionpulling on it this way, it is contracting this waythat is, its girth is getting lessits getting harder, youll find it tighter and tighter. That is, the more I pull it, the more it goes into compression in a plane at 90 degrees from where Im pulling it. I find that when I take a number of rodssteel rods, and I found that they are very flexibleif I push it this way, they want to bend. Im going to take a bundle of steel rods an eighth of an inch in diameter. They are four feet long, so that they are so long that they are very slender, and readily bend if I push on the ends, towards each other. They are all the same diameter, and I am going to bundle them together in parallel one to another, a whole lot of them. We find two of them will come into contact. Ive made cross section thru them, they come into contact like that, and now they cant get any closer to one other. They are actually tangent. A third one will nest in top of the twoit makes it a triangle. I find that I can get six around one making the hexagon form. We went into that
Buckminster Fuller Institute 800-967-6277 http://www.bfi.org

1991 Buckminster Fuller Institute

Tensegrity pattern yesterday. I can get another row around, and another row, and they get into a hexagonal pattern of closest packing. And I take a large number of these rods, and Ive counted them out so they are going to come out in even hexagonsnot just partial rings at the outer set. And, I bring them together, and finally you keep doing this to them and you finally get into that closest packingvery much tighter than they were at first. Now we put a tensile strap around them to hold them in their closest packing, so we wrap them all the way around, the whole length of this, get it absolutely tightly bound together. Now, I made so many of them that we have a total bundle about six inches in diameter, and it is four feet long, so its length-to-diameter ratio is twelve-to-one. You find there is something in columns, compresion columns, that we call slenderness ratio. The Greek stone columns, they found they could go 18 diameters high before the column wanted to collapse one way or anotherthat is the slenderness ratiothe ratio of the diameter to length. And we have the steel columns that can get up today, some of the very good steels, can get up to as much as 36-to-1 before theynow you see, when you load a column in compression, it wants to banana like that. It tends to go to arc of decreasing radius. Now 12-to-1, I made that bundle of 6 inches in diameter and 4 feet long, so eight-to-one is a very short column, it would be called, and it has really no tendency to banana at all. Its pretty much like just one stone section in a Greek column. Now, Im going to put this column under an hydraulic press. In the hydraulic press, between the top member coming downfantastic power being exerted here. And as the pressure comes on each of the rods that are in the column, you know they want to bend. But because they are in closest packing they cant bend towards each other. They can only bend away from each anotherthat is the only possible freedom. So that is exactly what they start to do. And so, we keep loading it, and they want to go out like a cigar quite evenly. We have something called a neutral axis of a compression member. If you can load it very closely on the neutral axis then the load doesnt try to make it banana one way or the other. The slenderness could make it go almost any directionjust a little tiny force, and it goes that way. Now, we find then, very evenly loaded in its center and being just a short column, it tends to become like a cigarall the rods on the outside can bend away from one another, thats the only direction they can yield. Therefore to do so, they were bound together, so it puts an enormous strain on the binding as they work against that binding, so while we are deliberately loading it in compression this way, the resultis it goes into tension in a plane at 90 degrees. Its exactly opposite of what we did with the tension member going into compression. Here again, our friend precession. In Engineering that is called the Prossler effect. Often when somebodys name is being used, it obscures a function and it would be better to say precession than Prossler effect. Then we really have the generalized principle covering all of these. Now, having recognized these proclivities of compression members, I saw then a tension member, when I do tense it, tends then to go to an arc of greater radius; and here we have
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Tensegrity something quite different from the compression member trying to go to the arc of lesser radius. The tension member tries to straighten out, and tries then also really to get all this effectiveness within the neutral axis. It tries to get in its own neutral axisto be, in a sense, most effective. Tension members really tend to gain strength as first used, and build up really quite a lot of strength. Now, I found, that whereas there is a slenderness ratio in compression columns there was no limit length to cross-section. There was no slenderness ratio in tension members. If you had a better alloy, they could be thinner and thinner. So I saw that tension members were not limited by cross-section relation to length. If I could get a better material, I could make them longer and longer and thinner and thinner. Thats exactly what went on in the history of suspension bridges. The first suspension bridges were actually made with great iron linksvery great cross section and very short span. You come to the Brooklyn Bridge is the first one where we are using cable, and they used piano steel wire, which was one of those alloys. At a time when the milled steel was only about 50,000 and he got 70,000 with his piano steel wire; so he had relatively delicate cables carying all of that extraordinary traffic with its enormous span. Then we came to George Washington Bridge, and we had gotten very much finer, because the alloys had so improved. And each one of these bridges getting upthe Golden Gate and then finally Verisanowere down to very delicate cables, where you not only have greater loads and greater lengths, but actually less sections of materials per given load. I saw then that we were approaching, because there is no limit ratio of length to cross section in tension, that we were approaching infinite length and no cross section at all! And I said, Is that talking nonsense? So I said, well, because tension goes thentends to occurto go to arcs of very large radius, therefore Id better think about some very big systems. So, lets think celestial here. Lets think for instance about the Earth and the Moon. And I see we can fly a little airplane right through the line of the center of gravity of the Moon, and the center of gravity of the Earth, and nothing happens. You dont sever anything. The fact that this turned out then to be the scheme of the Universe, where nature was using discontinuous compression and only continuous tension was invisible to you and I because of this extraordinary mass interattraction, which is invisiblewhich made it so perplexing what those planets were doing, to those early observers. Apparently, then, the great structural scheme of UniverseI found these enormous masses interattracting one anotherthe Earth and the Moon with these enormous distances in between them. Then thinking a little more about what you and I just reviewed about compression and tension, I will notice then, that when I load my column, I must try to stay on neutral axis so that it will not try to bend one way or another. Then I see that in loading that compression column, it tends to be more and more of a cigar. And I find that if I keep loading it under the press, its finally going to get to be a sphere; and in the spherical model something extraordinary happens, because any axis is a neutral axis. Up to this time there has been only one neutral axis, but suddenly any axis is a neutral axis. So that we find that ball bearings, spherical steel balls, became the best compression members
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Tensegrity that man has ever invented, for they carried these enormous loads and continually distributed their loads so that any axis is a neutral axisany axis will do. They are continually serving as you roll them around. So I found, then, nature was compressionally optimal in the spherical. So then I said, heres a scheme herethe Earth is a sphere, and the moon is a sphere, and the sun is a sphere, and youve got atomsallwhat nature has is islands of spherical compression in a sea of comprehensive tension. So we have then what we call discontinuous compression and continuous tension. There is the scheme of nature. And man was not building his buildings that way. Man is building entirely compression on compressionbrick on brick. He doesnt seem to think with any other kind of logic. This made me wonder whether it would be possible to make discontinuous compression, continuous tension structuresthat was really what opened up this whole field. There are a great many people now dealing in these structures, but I call them tensional integrities. The integrity is in the tension, because it is continuous, it comes back to itself. It is always a closed system. Open then it will make troubleit must be a closed system. And so, and then I shortened the words tensional integrity down to tensegrity. So we call these tensegrity structures. I began to think then about, for instance, I always find social insights that seem to accrue to terminal information such as I am giving you. Where we do find out, what is the optimum? And the sphere then, gets to be the optimum for compression. And the tension going unlimited to no cross-sections at all. And this is really the whole scheme of our Universe. That is our gravitational interaction. I find, then, for instance, it is very interesting that in the regeneration of human life, the general design of the human beings, of the female and the male. I find the female, having then, the eggs within her, and the eggs are fertilized within her. The new life of the female continually comes out of the female. She opens up, and a new life comes out of that life, and a new life comes out of that life. I also then point out to you the difference between the male and the female. The male then becomes discontinuous. He becomes islanded. He is a hunter. The female and her young and so forth are the great continuity of that family, but the male goes off to be the hunter and the fighter. He is the island. She is central. This is really very fundamental in social behavior. Now, I just, personally find then that the woman is tensive. Just fundamentally. Just the sex act. She pulls in. And a man is compressive. He thrusts, she pulls. And its just very fundamental. What we call being female is to pullto walk away, to attract. I find the male tending to do thisto punch. She does the other way. I cant help but find it very important to notice these things this way. I dont see any pure males or pure females in human beings, so there are all kinds ofoften males can get to be quite attractive as well. They do have the attraction. But the point is that there seems to be a predominance of this kind, and it has something to do with the great integrities of the fundamental complementality that I gave you yesterday. Where we only just learned in our lastless than twenty years, less than a score of yearsthat the complementality is dissimilaris not mirror image.
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Tensegrity So, that unity is plural and at minimum two, I began to find to be a very, very fundamental way of thinking, and that was a phase that we ended up long, long ago.

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