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Tensegrity Tower: Second email from Kenneth Snelson

Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1999 13:52:21 -0400
To: Bob Burkhardt <>
From: Kenneth Snelson
Subject: Your email message

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your very nice letter addressing my objections to parts of your web presentation. I'd very much appreciate having your "A Practical Guide to Tensegrity Design". Thanks


About the word "mast": This started early on after Bucky decided to take my structure and claim it as his own. Mast derived from his seeing himself as Captaining the world ship. Nautical terms appealed to him. Why this column or tower structure was a "mast" I can't explain. It served absolutely no such purpose in any of its manifestations.

As I said before, he liked to stamp his own label on everything -- the way creatures often mark territory. The trouble was that he made unwarranted claims on most any territory. This was but one way of his playing God. That's what urged him coin names for familiar, well-known, things with the goal of staking claim to them -- renaming the cubo-octahedron the "dymaxion", later the "vector-equilibrium" a good example.; or the "oct-tet" truss, well known to mathematicians, crystolographers and Alexander Graham Bell. Often the strategy succeeded and the people around him began also to use his coinage.

>I also think there is some hope for tensegrity domes at least with
>double-layer technologies. I was quite surprised at the rigidity of a
>couple low-frequency double layer spheres I built.

What you must keep in mind -- although hard to keep in mind until you've built a full size structure such as you're contemplating -- is that the sheer mass, the weight and the scale make unimaginable changes in the performance of what, in a model, seems not all that dramatic. Also, constructing -- assembling -- such complexes is profoundly challenging since they're essentially floppy until the final tension lines are attached. Even if it were possible to encapsulate a city as Fuller claimed in his writings, constructing it in-situ would be the most daunting part of the entire enterprise. And why would one want to do it that way? in any case, when there are numbers of good, sound, pin-jointed dome systems that are fairly firm structures even when they're not fully assembled.

A point about language. It's hard to know why Fuller used "ephemeralization" speaking of lightweight structures. My Random House Dictionary defines ephemeral as: "Lasting for a remarkably brief time." and "Living or lasting only for a day..." nothing to do with lightness, only with time. I hope I've made my sculptures to survive for many years -- inshalla. They are not intended to be ephemeral.

>Now that I think, I guess it was Bucky who referred to a different
>structure as a "mast". Contemplating the structure I built gave me an
>experiential notion of what he was talking about as far as
>ephemeralization where he used his "mast" as an example. I think his
>point about ephemeralization is made much more simply and effectively with
>your structure than with the one he used (see Fig. 740.21 in Synergetics).
>I have changed all references to "mast" to "tower" in my caption.

>I also think there is some hope for tensegrity domes at least with
>double-layer technologies. I was quite surprised at the rigidity of a
>couple low-frequency double layer spheres I built.

Please note that Figures 19 and 21 of my patent are a prescription for a double shell dome applicabel to of various geometries.

>Certainly I have to be a little naive to pursue the line of research I
>have. An NSF reviewer called the idea of building double-layer domes with
>identical-length struts naive until he realized I had. I have achieved a
>certain computational facility with tensegrity. I would like to come up
>with some useful structures, and I appreciate their aesthetically pleasing
>aspect as well.

Good luck. It's a worthy goal,

Kenneth Snelson

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