All the materials Fuller used were utilized in their optimal state of tension – as opposed to a less efficient compressive application. The central mast was the only loadbearing part of all the houses, and the rest was supported by tensile cables and held rigid by compression rings. This system, which dealt separately with tension and compression, became known as tensegrity – formed by tensional integrity. In short tensegrity is a structural principle in which compression and tension are isolated, and the compressed members (bars or struts) do not interact with one another, and the pre-stressed tensioned components (cables or tendons) define the system’s spatial confines.
Tension System within the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine (1944)
The Dymaxion House began as a hexagon but developed into a circular form, once technology in the construction of framework and coverings allowed it to do so. As described in other portions of this blog, the structure was held back from taking the optimal circular form by an inability to form double curved surfaced, but once the construction of such components was invented in other fields (mainly aircraft), Fuller used the development to his advantage and replaced the hexagon in his own design.
This system also allowed for lightweight materials to span greater distances without the need of heavy, loadbearing supports.
“Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder…Tensegrity structures are pure pneumatic structures and can accomplish visibly differentiated tension-compression interfunctioning in the same manner that it is accomplished by pneumatic structures, at the subvisible level of energy events.”

Authored by: Will Fu, Terry Huang, Justyna Maleszyk and Isabel Ochoa
Edited by: Isabel Ochoa