June 16, 2010

Tensegrity Tower in New Orleans

Sprouting from a lagoon, a slim framework of stainless-steel tubes and cables seems to defy gravity as it extends 45 feet into the air. The spindly column looks fragile, ethereal.

The sculpture's dramatic setting adds to its allure. Surrounded by water and a wooded shoreline, it reaches for the sky, irresistibly drawing the eye.

Created by Kenneth Snelson and titled Virlaine Tower, this structure is the largest artwork in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans. It is an example of a tensegrity structure. The tubes do not connect to each other. Instead, a single cable winds through the tubes to hold the structure in place.

In his sculptures, Snelson sought to portray in a visible way the interplay of physical forces in space. See "Needle Tower" for another example of Snelson's tensegrity structures.

Photos by I. Peterson


Adriana said...


Pacha Nambi said...

Two related videos from YouTube:



Tensegrity Wiki said...

Thanks for sharing the great photos. His sculptures have inspired an entire discipline of biotensegrity. Are you sure a single cable winds through the tubes? In the needle tower at the Hirschorn, the cables are separate. This deserves a mention on the wiki, at http://tensegritywiki.com. If I have time, I will open an article there!

Math Tourist said...

I'm not certain that a single cable winds through the sculpture. It seems reasonable that the structure should require several cables (perhaps three?).

FloatingBones said...

We had a brief discussion about Snelson's Virlane Tower on the geodesic mailing list a couple of months ago. You can follow the chain of messages at http://lists.sculptors.com/pipermail/geodesic/2010-August/000811.html

Many of the mathematical properties of tensegrity are largely unexplored. The tensegrity icosahedron has a bunch of 2-way, 3-way, and 4-way symmetries. Burkhardt discusses these in "A Practical Guide to Tensegrity Design".

I haven't seen any rigorous discussion of the minimum number of lines needed for a tower. As a practical matter, I believe that Snelson's sculptures all use individual lines.

Mr. tensegrity wiki uses a skwish toy as his icon. Tom Flemons, inventor of that toy ( intensiondesigns.com ) told me several years ago that they used a single line to make them. It's pretty easy to find a sequence to thread them; I did that independently in http://tensegrity-factory.com/notes.pdf .

I wouldn't at all be surprised if you could tile a tensegrity tower with a single line. I'm guessing you'd need to add a triangle of lines at the bottom of the tower.

If you do any work with this, I bet that Burkhardt would be interested.