Tensional integrity is a very recent concept for our civilization. In A Fuller Explanation, Amy Edmondson talks about its origins:
In the summers of 1947 and 1948, Fuller taught at Black Mountain College, and spoke constantly of “tensional integrity”. Universe seems to rely on continuous tension to embrace islanded compression elements, he mused; we must find a way to model this structural principle. Much to his delight, a student and later well-known sculptor, Kenneth Snelson, provided the answer. He presented his discovery to Fuller: a small structure consisting of three separated struts held rigidly in place with a few strings.
Most of us haven’t had an opportunity to play with a tensegrity; having one in hand helps tremendously to understand them. Fortunately, you can buy one of these at your local toy store or from Amazon.com: it’s called a Skwish Toy. Get a more info
Skwish! Body/mind workers: get several of these toys; figure out ways to use them in your classes. Better yet, get one of the medical-grade models from Tom Flemons.
With a tensegrity in hand, you can see two very important principles:
You’ll see that the structure is smooshable when you push it in any direction. Buckminster Fuller calls this omnitensional integrity. Fuller notes, “Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder.”
If you smoosh the structure very slowly, you will notice that it pushes back against the smoosh very little at first. The push-back will increase as you deform the structure more. A balanced tensegrity is very fluid-like; when it gets out of balance, it starts to become rigid. The structure behaves in a non-Hookean manner—a fancy way of saying nonlinear. As Dr. Levin notes on his website, this nonlinear behavior is crucial to moving our structures with energy efficiency.
Who ever thought that a child’s toy could show you something so profound?