With thanks to Phil KrauseThe Spodek arena is a major example of the principle of tensegrity. Tensegrity was originally designed by Karl Langason a Russian artist back in the 1920s, but was named by Buckminster Fuller and is structure based on a balance between tension and compression components – Deskarati
Spodek (saucer in Polish) is a multipurpose arena complex in Katowice, Poland, opened in 1971. The architects designed the Spodek as one of the first major structures to employ the principle of tensegrity. The roof uses an inclined surface held in check by a system of cables holding up its circumference.
Tensegrity structures are structures based on the combination of a few simple but subtle and deep design patterns:
- loading members only in pure compression or pure tension, meaning the structure will only fail if the cables yield or the rods buckle
- preload or tensional prestress, which allows cables to be rigid in tension
- mechanical stability, which allows the members to remain in tension/compression as stress on the structure increases
Because of these patterns, no structural member experiences a bending moment. This can produce exceptionally rigid structures for their mass and for the cross section of the components.
In 1948, artist Kenneth Snelson produced his innovative ‘X-Piece’ after artistic explorations at Black Mountain College (where Buckminster Fuller was lecturing) and elsewhere. Some years later, the term ‘tensegrity’ was coined by Fuller, who is best known for his geodesic domes. Throughout his career, Fuller had experimented incorporating tensile components in his work, such as in the framing of his dymaxion houses. Snelson’s 1948 innovation spurred Fuller to immediately commission a mast from Snelson. In 1949, Fuller developed an icosahedron based on the technology, and he and his students quickly developed further structures and applied the technology to building domes. After a hiatus, Snelson also went on to produce a plethora of sculptures based on tensegrity concepts.
The concept has applications in biology. Biological structures such as muscles and bones, or rigid and elastic cell membranes, are made strong by the unison of tensioned and compressed parts. The muscular-skeletal system is a synergy of muscle and bone. The muscles and connective tissues provide continuous pull and the bones discontinuous push.