The Largest Synergy Ball Yet Built!

Fernando Sierra and his Industrial Design students standing around the giant Synergy Ball they built in Colombia.

This one came as a delightful surprise to me. :-)

One day late in the year 2000, I got an email from Fernando Sierra, who teaches Industrial Design and runs a group called "The Bionics Research Group" at Pontificia Bolivariana University in Colombia. He sent the following:

My name is Fernando Sierra and I'm very interested in tensegrity and origami. I find that your synergy ball in some way is a link between this two subjects. It makes it fascinating to me, and I would like to know more about deresonated tensegrity and to go deeper into the possible tensegrity-origami connection. I would be very grateful if you can help me to find information, and if I get something new out of it, I'll let you know.

Thanks in advance. Best wishes,


(If anyone does have further info on tensegrity-origami connections, please let me know, and I'll forward to Fernando. I gave him pointers to a few books and the Geodesic and Domesteading mailing lists that I run, but am not sure of other resources.)

I then replied and mentioned this part:

I've even toyed with the idea of expanding it to a large-scale size for buildings. So long as the base-fold on the diamond shape can flex or is hinged (which the paper also performs admirably) you should be able to use the same design but made out of plywood, sheet metal, etc. I thought they might make very interesting large-scale artwork (such as mobiles/sculpture in parks or building lobbies), but haven't gotten around to pursuing that.

Then he sent me the above image and surprised the heck out of me! :-)

More from Fernando, including images from some of his other work:

I'm sending you a couple of pictures. The one in color [the giant synergy ball, above] is a synergy ball I made with my students (Yes, I teach in the Industrial Design Department at the Pontificia Bolivariana University). It is built with corrugated cardboard and is about 2.5 meters (8.5 ft) in height. After one day of being O.K. it started to collapse by it's own weight. [I pointed out that they perform better when suspended, otherwise, paper and cardboard can buckle at the thin ends of the struts. -Pat]

A tensegrity	model - a six strut prism - and its folded counterpart. - By Fernando Sierra The other picture (The black and white one) is a tensegrity model - a six strut prism - and its folded counterpart. I've been trying to prove that for some specific angles, these folded structures are tensegrity systems, but I don't have any definitive resolution yet.

The folded prism can be twisted to some point but it doesn't fold flat. But you can make similar folding at different angles and some of them will fold flat (those I suspect are not tensegrity).

A foldable emergency shelter. - By Fernando Sierra A 6-strut tensegrity model, using fabric for the tension elements. - By Fernando Sierra (Click for larger version.) I'm interested in emergency shelters too (What a coincidence, isn't it?) in fact we are right now looking for economic support in several NGOs to make a project about it. I'm sending you a picture (the b/w one) of a foldable shelter I designed inspired by a folding which behaves as a tensegrity structure when is tensed with external cables (Gernot Minke -a German architect- call this type of structure "open tensegrity" ) Again the folding - tensegrity connection. I came out with the idea after seeing your synergy ball. I made some models of tensegrity structures with cloth instead of wires (see the color picture) and it evolved in the shelter.

Your web page is very interesting. We have made some 3 frequency domes with cardboard as well, and other big size models. We are working on a web page, in the mean time I'll be sending you some pictures in each message.

If you are doing something interesting with a Synergy Ball or based on something inspired from it, please let me know! I'm always delighted to find out what new directions other people are taking these ideas, and that, in turn, may inspire other new ideas for me, or others reading these pages. (The very definition of Synergy! :-) )

Back to The Synergy Ball Page.

Patrick Salsbury

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