Biotensegrity – the structural basis of life

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An appreciation of the ‘fascial’ network in health and disease has been an integral part of osteopathic practice for more than a century, but it is only recently that the details of its structure have been recognized. This book brings everything together for the first time, from its discovery, the basic geometry, significance and anatomy to its assimilation into current biomechanical theory as a much needed reference.

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The concept of tensegrity as a structural design principle has been around since the middle of the twentieth century and is currently seeing a huge increase in interest. From early forays into a new form of sculpture it is now incorporated into architecture and the engineering of deployable structures in space, and is also attracting the attention of biologists, clinicians and others interested in functional anatomy and movement. Tensegrity models emulate biology in ways that were inconceivable in the past, and the principles underlying their construction provide a more thorough assessment of biological mechanics at every size scale.

This book by Graham Scarr is a response to the frequently asked question, “what is (bio)tensegrity”, and will inspire the reader to take a deeper look at biological structure and find their own ways of applying it. It is a perspective that recognises that all natural forms are the result of interactions between natural physical forces and the fundamental laws that regulate them, and that an appreciation of these simple precepts leads to a better understanding of the human body as a functionally integrated and hierarchical unit.

Biotensegrity – the architecture of life aims to present a detailed and overall picture of tensegrity/biotensegrity, and its relevance to functional anatomy and biomechanical theory, and thus forms part of the basic science that underpins clinical reasoning. Because some of the tensegrity terminology used by engineers is not applicable to biology, Levin introduced the term ‘biotensegrity’ to clearly differentiate these fields. This book brings everything together for the first time, from its discovery, the basic geometry, significance and anatomy to its assimilation into current biomechanical theory as a much needed reference.

‘Biotensegrity – the structural basis of life’ presents a detailed and overall picture of tensegrity/biotensegrity and brings everything together for the first time, from its discovery and basic geometry to its significance to functional anatomy and biomechanical theory, and is a much needed reference; it is part of the basic science that underpins clinical reasoning.


Author Graham Scarr is a chartered biologist and osteopath with a particular interest in structural mechanics. Fascinated by the numerous examples of geometric patterns and shapes in nature, he has been researching their significance over many years. As a graduate in microbiology, and after spending several years developing his skills in a bacteriological research lab, he is now part of a specific interest group looking at the significance of the biotensegrity concept to biomechanics and clinical practice, and at the forefront of current thinking about this subject.

Working closely with Stephen Levin, an orthopaedic surgeon who first recognized the importance of biotensegrity to living organisms, he has developed new models that progress our understanding of the structure-function relationship in biology. Graham Scarr is currently a Fellow of the Linnean Society and Member of the Society of Biology; he has published several papers on this subject in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


Chapter 1 • Tensegrity
What is it?
The origin of tensegrity
The exhibition
Karl Ioganson
The architects
David Emmerich
Buckminster Fuller
The sculptor
Kenneth Snelson
The beginning of an idea
Building the tradition
A new perception
The geodesic dome
The functional sphere
The bicycle wheel
A combined effort

Chapter 2 • Simple geometry in complex organisms
A new approach to geometry: one that nature already ‘knows’ about
The rules of physics
Triangulating a hexagon
Close-packing the shapes
The Platonic polyhedra
A dynamic structural system
The tetrahedron
The octahedron
The cube
The isotropic vector matrix and vector equilibrium
The icosahedron
The dodecahedron
The geometry of living structure
The jitterbug

Chapter 3 • The balance of unseen forces
The tensegrity model
The T6-sphere and tensegrity-icosahedron
The simple complexity of tensegrity
Structure and energy
Structural hierarchies
A pattern for all the others

Chapter 4 • The problem with mechanics
The laws of classical mechanics
Stress and strain
Scaling up in size
The consequences
A glimmer of hope
The important bits are missing!
A different sort of geometry
The broken lever
A changing paradigm
The kinematic chain
Closed-chain kinematics
Tensegrity hierarchies
The problem solved!

Chapter 5 • The autonomous cell
The cytoskeleton
Regulating the cell
Shaping the balance
Linking the inside with the outside
The development of tissues
The movement of cells
The development of complex patterns
The cellular integrator

Chapter 6 • The twist in the tale
The helix
The molecular helix
Complex hierarchies
The helical tube
Tubes within tubes within tubes…
The myofascial tube
The body wall
A more fundamental kind of geometry
Stirring the pot

Chapter 7 • The ease of motion
Replacing the old with the new
Dinosaurs and the Forth Bridge
Snelson’s tower
The vertebrate spine
The biotensegrity joint
The wheel
Floating sesamoids
A little bit of space
The knee
Sliding surfaces
A note of caution
A bit more detail
The elbow
Something rather peculiar is going on
A respectable function
A little resumé

Chapter 8 • The hard and the soft
The cranial vault
The geometric model
Straight into curves
Anatomical basics
Embryonic development
The integrated cranium
Cranial pathologies
The avian lung
Hierarchical anatomy
The tensegrity wheel model
The story so far

Chapter 9 • A closer look
Tension and compression
Attraction and repulsion
Pull and push
The possibilities are endless
Cables and struts
The lost strut
Simple evolving into complex
A search for the missing compression
It is all about perspective
Straight or curved
Reducing the stress
Spherical geometry
The nuances of anatomy

Chapter 10 • ‘Complex’ patterns in biology
The rhombic dodecahedron
The Fibonacci sequence and Golden Mean
Quasi-equivalence and the spherical viruses
Penrose tiling
The fractal
The connecting links
Higher dimensions
Hyperbolic geometry
What does it all mean?

Chapter 11 • Biotensegrity: a rational approach to biomechanics
The skeleton
Connective tissues
The fascia
The microvacuolar system
A new reality
Unravelling the old ideas
A misplaced wisdom
A global synergy
The simple complexity of motion
The dynamics of movement
The control of motion
Functional kinematics
A shift in balance
A change in perception
The biotensegrity model
A cautionary note
Basic science

Chapter 12 • Biotensegrity: the structural basis of life
First principles
The Platonic shapes and where they lead to
The helix
The icosahedron
Developmental evolution
The emergence of structure
The survival of the fittest
The biotensegrity model
The wheel
Multiple geometries
The ‘complex’ model and beyond
The functional human
The unseen core
Biotensegrity: the functional basis of life