Working within the Tensegrity Model

What is Tensegrity?

“Tensegrity” derives from collapsing the words “tension” and “integrity” and means that the integrity of these class of structures depends on the balance of tension within it.

R. Buckminster Fuller holds up a Tensegrity sphere. 18th April, 1979.

All structures in the universe are supported by a balance between tension and compression, between “push” and “pull”. The chair sits on the floor, the lamp hangs from the ceiling – that’s all the ways to support something there are. Shear, bending, and other forces are just combinations of basic tension and compression.We are very used to looking at and building structures that rely primarily on compression for support. The brick wall is the classic example: one brick is piled on top of the other.

Tensegrity Spine graphic by Tom Flemons

This is a “continuous compression” structure – where the compression created by gravity is carried from one brick to another, all the way to the ground. The bottom brick has to be compressively strong enough to carry all the bricks above it.

Nobody asks what a brick wall, or a house, which is similarly constructed, weighs. Weight is rarely a consideration in continuous compression structures. Bodies, however, are constructed with strict evolutionary limits on weight, so continuous compression is not a good model for building a body.

We have acted, however, in contemporary kinesiology and anatomy, as if this were the case.

But a body is in fact more like a balloon. A balloon is a classic tensegrity structure. The skin is the “tension member” – pulling in. The air is the “compression member” pushing out. The skin pulls in until it balances the air pushing out, and that determines the size of the balloon. Substitute a series of dowels for the air, and put rubber bands in place of the balloon “skin”, and you have a classic tensegrity structure.

(Taken from “Anatomy Trains”)

Tom Myers, Author of Anatomy Trains, explains how fascia, soft tissue, joints and bones are organized around the principle of Tensegrity. The human body is not a compression structure like a building, it is far more dynamic.

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