How to Build a Ringed Structure

Simple, mobile shelters from plastic pipes.

| March/April 1984

Shelter is as basic to humanity's survival as sustenance is . . . yet our approach to structural design has often taken a more complicated path than seems necessary. The "build it solid as a battleship" attitude toward construction appears to have pervaded the thoughts of at least Western civilization for a good long time (after all, the castles of medieval Europe could be said to be as overbuilt as New York City's turn-of-the-century skyscrapers).

Of course, Mother Nature doesn't always take the same approach. Her handiwork typically expresses—even in all its beauty—a striking attention to calculation and succinctness that's so conspicuous it's easily overlooked. Such economy of design is apparent in something as simple as the shell of an egg: Its elongated spherical shape lends itself quite adequately to its purpose as a container . . . yet that form also has a compressional strength (end to end) that's far beyond what we might imagine when viewing the thinness of its calcium wall.

Furthermore, similar compositions exist in more intricate natural structures, reinforcing the "minimal material for maximum strength" principle. The wing of a dragonfly, for example, has a gossamer-like consistency . . . but maintains rigidity by virtue of a geometric network of filaments stretching throughout the whole. Similarly, a precise helix pattern appears within plant stems, cacti, and even the nucleotides that makeup DNA molecules.

Ringed Structure Geometry 

It seems only natural, then, that designers would be eager to take full advantage of the models provided them by their environment. And to some extent, they do. The triangulated truss seen in construction parallels the configuration of a bird's metacarpal wing bone . . . and industrial research into the development and application of composite materials represents an attempt to simplify, and reduce the mass of, a large variety of structures.

Yet the concept can still be applied to many other areas of design . . . and the ringed structures that we're about to introduce you to are one manifestation of that mode of thought.

When the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Ecovillage began its fifth season last summer, staffers were greeted by a strange sight. An aged Volvo wagon loaded far beyond capacity (with pipe, poly tarps, trunks of reference material, and an industrial sewing machine, no less) was driven through our gates by a fellow who was barely discernible amid the moving avalanche of cargo.

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