CR4 - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion ®


Building & Design Blog Blog

Building & Design Blog

The Building & Design Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about building projects, tools and equipment, materials and hardware, and environment & energy. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Previous in Blog: Moving Walkways: An Urban Alternative to Cars?   Next in Blog: Sea Sponge Spikes Could Lead to Stronger Columns
Close
Close
Close
13 comments

The Nature of Structure

Posted January 19, 2017 11:00 AM by MaggieMc

The other afternoon I was reading about how sea sponge spicules could inspire stronger columns, and it reminded me of a structures course I took in college. Let me set the scene for you: 25 terrified first-year students and an ancient ex-Turkish military man with an accent so strong you couldn’t make out a word, a beyond-intimidating reputation, and a beard the length of his chest. The first day he assigned us a project in which we were to design a structure based off of nature, and then he proceeded to explain compression and tension using a basswood board and his beard as “the force” inflicted on it.

No one knew what was going on in that class, and I learned far more about design than I did structure, but I was forever instilled with the idea that nature was our best design precedent.

Today, in honor of my professor and sea sponge spicules, I’m going to share with you a few examples of biomimicry (“the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes”) in architecture that have really stuck with me.

The Eden Project, which looks like something out of a science fiction movie, was inspired by “a range of biological structures,” which include soap bubbles, radiolarian, and bee hives. Located in Cornwall, England, the design was for the Humid Tropics Biome—and as you can hear in a TED Talk by Michael Pawlyn, had to be created in such a way that it could adapt to the changing surface of the quarry it was in. In the process of creating this structure, they managed to create a superstructure that “is less than the weight of the air that it contains”—a pretty significant feat when compared to the average greenhouse.

Image Credit to Morphographic.com.

“The Gherkin” (technically named 30 St Mary Axe) was inspired by yet another sea sponge, the Venus Flower Basket Sponge. This sponge, in contrast to the orange puffball sponge that has the spicules we were talking about, is a “glowing creature that thrives in the inky depths of the sea.” The sea sponge roughly inspired the shape of the building, but the influence stemmed from the Venus Flower Basket’s ability to filter water and nutrients through a self-created grate-like exoskeleton. The building copies that ability to maneuver water though its “lattice-like exoskeleton,” instead “direct[ing] the flow of winds from street level and open windows along its spiral body, funneling it through the building’s offices naturally” and most importantly, this passive system of cooling reduces the energy consumed to half of that in a “conventionally air-conditioned office tower.”

Taipei 101, or really the bamboo that inspires it, is the precedent I remember most clearly from that structures course. The tall, slender skyscraper lends itself to the form of bamboo, but the flexibility of the structural characteristics also benefit the structure during high winds and typhoons. Taipei 101 is composed of separate segments, much like the individual cavities within bamboo. In some species of bamboo, the internodes, or cavities, appear to fit within each other ever so slightly, so the segments act as a cohesive unit. Taipei 101’s flared modules are said to have the same effect. Taipei 101 is not the only building to incorporate bamboo-like structure into its design, but I would argue it does attempt to pull in more of the bamboo’s symbolism than other buildings as the architects believed that evoking bamboo helped them “[express] upward progress and prosperous business.”

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Posts: 12221
Good Answers: 143
#1

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/19/2017 4:42 PM

How does this explain or coincide with the Native American tee-pee? Does it mimic the mountain? Does the hogan mimic the turtle?

Maybe someone will engineer a dwelling that is like one of the spiralcule tubes that can be stretched forth, or collapsed and packed up when not needed. Not to mention the skin to stretch over it, and remove when not needed.

__________________
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Dec 2016
Posts: 2914
Good Answers: 115
#2

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 1:25 AM

"... and then he proceeded to explain compression and tension..."

One of the most fascinating structures IMO are ones in which the two are kept separate yet together exist in perfect equilibrium: improbable-looking tensegrity structures, invented in 1948 by American sculptor Kenneth Snelson and subsequently popularised by American inventor and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller. 'Bucky' coined the term 'tensegrity,' a contraction of 'tension' and 'integrity.' Examples include Snelson's Needle Tower on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC,

.

the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane, Australia,

.

and even a child's toy called a Skwish (link currently offline for maintenance):

Reply
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 9496
Good Answers: 450
#3
In reply to #2

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 7:46 AM

My daughter (now aged 20) had such a toy when she was about 2 or 3. I played with it for hours.

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Posts: 12221
Good Answers: 143
#5
In reply to #3

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 11:32 AM

...and the rest of the story is that now she is a structural engineer?

__________________
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 9496
Good Answers: 450
#11
In reply to #5

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 3:44 PM

Sadly not. I'm still the only engineer/techie/scientist type in the family. But at least I had fun!

And grandson (by elder daughter) shows promise - but he's only 2.

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru

Join Date: Dec 2016
Posts: 2914
Good Answers: 115
#12
In reply to #3

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/21/2017 2:17 AM

When you played with that toy, do you recall that no matter badly you squished or twisted it, it sprang right back? The Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane is a lot more resilient thanks to its use of tensegrity than more conventional designs. Similarly, the Needle Tower at the Hirshhorn Museum would simply bend under wind loads that would topple other more conventional towers. Grass bends, trees break.

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 9496
Good Answers: 450
#13
In reply to #12

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/21/2017 10:52 AM

That was the fascination.

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
2
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8329
Good Answers: 765
#8
In reply to #2

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 12:49 PM

How to build a tower when you don't know how to weld and can't afford bolts.

It looks impressive but I think that if even one cable breaks the whole thing comes down.

Reply Good Answer (Score 2)
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Posts: 12221
Good Answers: 143
#10
In reply to #8

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 1:37 PM

It is art, more than functional steel, so if it falls, it is still art, deadly as it may be.

__________________
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2016
Posts: 740
Good Answers: 38
#4

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 11:15 AM

Reply
Guru
CR4 Admins - CR4 Moderator - CR4 Moderator United States - Member - New Member Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Technical Fields - Education - New Member

Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: East Greenbush, NY
Posts: 673
Good Answers: 10
#6

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 12:00 PM

I'm glad you liked the sea sponge spicule piece -- that was one of mine .

This is sort of related -- a fabric based on a human tissue.

Excellent post!

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Posts: 12221
Good Answers: 143
#7
In reply to #6

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 12:17 PM

I am confused now, are we talking about the nature of structure or the structure of nature?

__________________
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2016
Posts: 740
Good Answers: 38
#9
In reply to #7

Re: The Nature of Structure

01/20/2017 1:35 PM

Yes.

Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 13 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Andrew Westman (2); BestInShow (1); James Stewart (4); JohnDG (3); Jpfalt (2); tcmtech (1)

Previous in Blog: Moving Walkways: An Urban Alternative to Cars?   Next in Blog: Sea Sponge Spikes Could Lead to Stronger Columns

Advertisement