Snelson’s Neddle Towers

Needle Tower II (1969)
The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Kenneth Snelson (born June 29, 1927) is a contemporary sculptor who arranges rigid and flexible components to compose his sculptures combining tension and structural integrity. This Neddle Tower II (1969) is 30 meters high and it’s interesting here because of this picture:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is a mathematical picture or not? The sculpture is in the garden of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.

LocationKröller-Müller Museum of Otterlo (map)

There is another Neddle Tower (1968) beside Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.:

Source: Street View

Source: Street View

According to the Mathematical Tourist (by Ivars Peterson):

Snelson discovered the underlying principle for such structures in 1948, advocating the term “floating compression” to describe the balance between tension and compression and, in his sculptures, between flexible cables and rigid tubes. R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) coined the word “tensegrity” (combining “tension” and “integrity”) for the same idea, and his term stuck. Snelson refers to weaving as the “mother of tensegrity.”

Snelson defines “tensegrity” as follows: “Tensegrity describes a closed structural system composed of a set of three or more elongate compression struts within a network of tension tendons, the combined parts mutually supportive in such a way that the struts do not touch one another, but press outwardly against nodal points in the tension network to form a firm, triangulated, prestressed, tension and compression unit.”
Snelson’s Needle Tower delivers a wonderful geometrical surprise when you venture underneath and look up to see a striking pattern of six-pointed stars.

This pattern arises naturally out of the requirement that each layer of a tensegrity structure consist of three compression elements (tubes). The sets of three alternate, giving the impression of a six-pointed star as you look up the tower. Snelson’s sculptures often show this kind of symmetry.

The elegance of Snelson’s tower suggests its use as an aesthetic alternative to conventional communications towers. But tensegrity structures are fairly elastic and flexible. They sway in the wind, which may not be ideal for the antennas and dishes that would top such structures.

Location: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (map)

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