Tensegrity Details

There are several general rules governing tensegrity principles, which can be summarized in Fuller’s and Snelson’s description of the form having discontinuous compression and continuous tension:

1: None of the compressional elements directly connect, but are rather indirectly connected by tensional elements that disseminate the forces.

2: At the points or nodes where the compressional and tensional members interact, summing the forces of tension and compression equals zero.1

3: If tensional or compressional loading changes at any node, the structure will adapt its shape. Loading is not localized at any point, but rather globally distributed, dividing the load-bearing by all nodes connected to the load-bearing node, progressively distributing loading. This is true for the secondary and tertiary nodes as well. Tensegrity structures are extremely durable, flexible and dynamically adaptive to changes in load-bearing anywhere on the structure. None of this is true for purely compressional structures like traditional buildings.

1 In Electrical Engineering, this rule is described by Kirchhoff’s Law. This writer does not know the name of the equivalent rule in Structural Engineering

In addition to the classic Tensgrity forms articulated in the sculptures of Kenneth Snelson, there are other examples of tensegrity principles which can be recognized in our anatomy:
An inflated balloon comprises tensional(skin) and compressional(compressed air) forces. If the balloon is squished the complete structure adapts. In our anatomy, these balloons are called Synovial Bursae
The bicycle wheel comprises tensional(spokes) and compressional(rim) elements. If a spoke breaks, its tensional load is instantaneously picked up by the remaining spokes. This function can be identified in our Fasciae.
Both of these examples demonstrate potentially maximal structural integrity with minimal materials.

This free download by Kenneth Snelson is an excellent introduction to Tensegrity:


A full discussion of the Tensegrity Principle applied to biological systems is beyond the scope of this website. However, the material is covered comprehensively in Graham Scarr’s book:

BIOTENSEGRITY, The Structural Basis of Life.