My name is Tom Flemons and I am the owner/operator of Intension Designs Ltd., a small design company based on the west coast of Canada that I started in the early 80’s. I’m an artist and inventor that early on became fascinated with geometry and design. Celtic and Arabic art were early influences as was the work of M.C. Escher. Also the book ‘Patterns in Nature’ by Peter Stevens (1974) was an inspiration. It made me realize my fascination with design had meaning and there were correlates found in nature. But the greatest influence on my thinking was the work and writings of Buckminster Fuller. I saw him speak at the University of Calgary in the 70’s. He spoke without a pause and with no props for over 3 hours to a standing room only crowd. When I left I was a changed person. Suddenly a lot of my interests had a context and for the next few years I avidly read anything I could about him and his projects. The Whole Earth Catalogue widely promoted his systemic thinking and there were lots of articles on geodesic domes, zomes and their advantages in building more with less- what Fuller referred to as ‘ephemeral production’. About that time I became vaguely aware of the word tensegrity and eventually realized that much of his thinking was catalyzed and represented by these gossamer like tensegrity spheres. Eventually I understood that tensegrity structures were organized around basic principles that could be used to build almost any complex structure by combining simpler elements derived from basic geometric solids. But this came much later…
I started building geodesic structures from these basic forms using straws as struts and pipe cleaners as hubs. About the same time, in university (in the 70’s) I used to sit in the pub building models of tesseracts (3D analogues of 4D cubes) out of coffee stir sticks and for much of my time there tried to model philosophical principles using geometric constructs. It was an odd obsession that I never completely understood but one thing led to another and now 40 years later I’ve found I have devoted my life to modelling all sorts of complex systems using geometric principles. I’ll try to lay out examples of this in the pages that follow. Following my natural proclivity, I took a degree in Interdisciplinary studies from Simon Fraser University B.C. Canada in 1982.
After university I flailed around for a few years trying to figure out what I was good for. It wasn’t until I started building tensegrities that I got a sense of direction. They are notoriously hard to build and almost impossible to make sense of from images. In those days there was very little information available and I had to learn by trying to build them without instruction. Eventually I figured out a way to make them quickly and easily which opened up the possibliity of applying them to various design projects.
I began by building models out of dowels and elastic cord, which led to toys, mobiles, lampshades and later using other materials, furniture, free standing playground structures, sculptures and wind vanes. I started my toy company in 1984 and began selling toys and other designs based upon my new method of building. My first toy, the Skwish became a very successful over the course of the next few years and by 1990 was sold in over 20 countries. Now, almost thirty years later, close to 5 million have been sold in at least 50 countries around the world. I stopped making them personally and licensed my designs to a larger toy company in 1987.
This freed me up to pursue a second fine art degree at Emily Carr Colllege of Art and Design in Vancouver BC and I graduated in 1991. I majored in sculpture, learned to weld, worked in various mediums and studied furniture design.
My interest in what is now known as Biotensegrity began when I first noticed the formal resemblance between a certain kind of tensegrity masts and vertebrae in 1985. I researched spinal mechanics, built models of a tensegral spine which I subsequently sold to doctors and chiropractors for a short while. A search of the medical literature on bio-mechanics revealed no one was exploring the similarity of spines and tensegrity masts so I left this field alone for a number of years and pursued other interests However I eventually discovered that an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Stephen Levin was writing about the tensegrity and biomechanics and eventually he and I met and began to work together in the late 90’s.
Over the years I’ve built many bio-tensegrity analogs of vertebrate anatomy. It has proved somewhat plausible to model the biomechanics of the body using a tensegrity approach but there were difficulties with the modelling process which I have attempted to address in a number of papers written in the past 12 years. See papers Each iteration approached a closer approximation of anatomy and in turn sparks insight into an explanation of bio-mechanics that does not require levers and fulcrums. These models offer researchers, therapists and health care professionals a ‘hands on’ experience of the tensegral human body. This research is a work in progress and feedback is welcome.
Contact me at:
Intension Designs Ltd.
248 Forest Ridge Road
Saltspring Island BC