Welcome to Intension Designs. As the pun suggests, most of these pages are about using tension networks to create tensegrity structures. Tensegrities appear to defy gravity but also definition. They can be art objects and geometric oddities, but also structures that can model complex systems. Because they are complex systems in themselves, sometimes they get entangled with the things they are describing.
They stand apart from other kinds of structures in many ways. They model fundamental mathematical and geometrical patterns baked into reality and they seem somehow anchored to the basic nature of all structure at the smallest scale of matter and energy. But unlike Greek Platonic Solids, tensegrities are transparent- both in structure and design. You can literally see through them, and through also to how the forces that hold them together are arranged. Even so, how they manage to hold their form is non-obvious without some study and instruction. They must be understood holistically; they challenge us to think systemically and to see how all the parts of a whole act in concert.
They also float in a kind of fractal dimension- they are not solids, there are no surfaces, edges are composed of tensional members, and nodes where tension meets compression clearly show how forces are mitigated to maintain structural integrity. Any of the components, either struts or cables, can be further understood to be made from arrays of smaller tensegrities and so on down, in smaller and smaller scales like Mandelbrot sets. It’s not turtles but tensegrities all the way down…
Tensegrities can be used to model complex systems but because they are complex systems in themselves, sometimes they get entangled with the things they are describing. For more on this topic please see my paper- How Tensegrities Model Reality.
The principle of tensegrity was unknown to previous eras- it is a fundamental discovery of the mid twentieth century. It is being increasingly employed in architecture, engineering, satellite deployment, and recently in robotics. Other applications include toys, furniture design, wind mobiles, sculptures, and jewelry. (see galleries)
All tensegrities are tension structures but not all tension structures are tensegrities—e.g. a spider’s web relies on an external framework for support (branches etc.), and canopy architecture requires ground anchors for stability.
Tensegrities are different—their forms are self stabilized, independent of gravity and need no external support. They are based on the discovery by artist Kenneth Snelson and additional work by Buckminster Fuller that it’s possible to design structures where a continuous tension network can suspend floating,discontinuous compression elements in some geometrical relationship to each other. The resulting forms are extremely lightweight, resilient and possess remarkable properties including the ability to withstand dynamic stress by distributing a load to all parts of the structure simultaneously.
It has also been apparent to a few maverick scientists for decades, that living structures demonstrate the qualities of tensional integrity, and researchers have been exploring the links between tensegrity and biology for several decades. Dr. Donald Ingber at Harvard has been working at the cellular level while physician Dr. Stephen Levin has focused on the macro level of gross anatomy. Many others have joined the field in the past decade and there is now active research worldwide in a wide variety of disciplines.
Here are resources to some of the research into biotensegrity. See also my paper The Geometry of Anatomy which attempts a biotensegrity description of anatomical structure. I’ve built a number of tensegrities which model human anatomy with different degrees of complexity and success.
I have been researching and helping to develop the concepts that underlie the theory of biotensegrity for 30 years. And for almost 20 years I’ve focused on designing and building models that illustrate this principle operating at the level of structural anatomy in vertebrates. My thinking has evolved and I am now focusing on applications of tensegrity in the fields of prosthetics and robotics.