The notion of tensegrity was first introduced in the field of architecture, by R. Buckminster Fuller and Kenneth Snelson (Ingber, 2003). The mathematics and science behind this concept was described by Fuller, whereas Snelson demonstrated the concept through his well-known sculptures (Scarr, 2008). The name is formed from the words, “tension” and “integrity” anddescribes systems that maintain their shape by continuous tension instead of continuouscompression (Scarr, 2008; Ingber, 2003). There are two structural classes involved in tensegrity: prestressed and geodesic, both of which rely on continuous tension to uphold their shape stability under mechanical stress (Ingber, 2003). Prestressed structures retain their elements in place by means of a pre-existing tensile stress or isometric tension (Ingber, 2003). A good example of this is the human body; bones take on the role of struts, restricting the pull of muscles and ligature, while the stiffness (shape stability) of the body changes as a result of muscle tone (prestress) (Ingber, 2003). Geodesic structures contain a firm external frame made up of a repeating geometrical pattern (triangles) (Scarr, 2008). They constrict movement and maintain their shape regardless of their environment (Ingber, 2003). Fuller’s geodesic domes and tetrahedral space frames are two popular examples of geodesic structures (Ingber, 2003). Within the human body, geodesic structures are located in the cytoskeletal cortex of most cells and are responsible for the distinct shape of erythrocytes (Scarr, 2008).
The cellular tensegrity model suggests that the entire cell is a prestressed tensegrity structure, albeit there are smaller scale geodesic structures within the cell (Ingber, 2003). The tensional forces are created by the cytoskeletal microfilaments (actomyosin apparatus) and intermediate filaments, which are stabilized by interconnected structural components that oppose compression, particularly internal microtubule struts and extracellular matrix adhesions (Ingber, 2003). This is generally accepted, however filaments can both assert tension or resist compression depending on the size scale and structural context (Ingber, 2003).
Scarr, G. (2008). A model of the cranial vault as a tensegrity structure, and its significance to normal and abnormal cranial development. International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 11(3), 80-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijosm.2008.03.006