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Space frame

1 History
Space frames were independently developed by
Alexander Graham Bell around 1900 and Buckminster
Fuller in the 1950s. Bells interest was primarily in using
them to make rigid frames for nautical and aeronautical
engineering, with the tetrahedral truss being one of his
inventions. However few of his designs were realised.
Buckminster Fullers focus was architectural structures;
his work had greater inuence. Introduction of the rst
space grid system called MERO in 1943 in Germany
initiated the use of space trusses in architecture. The
commonly used method, still in use has individual
tubular members connected at node joints (ball shaped).
Dierent systems like space deck system, octet truss
system, Pyramitec system, Unibat system, Cubic system,
etc. were developed. A method of Tree supports was
developed to replace the individual columns.[1]

The roof of this industrial building is supported by a space frame


2 Design methods
Space frames are typically designed using a rigidity matrix. The special characteristic of the stiness matrix in
an architectural space frame is the independence of the
angular factors. If the joints are suciently rigid, the
angular deections can be neglected, simplifying the calculations.

3 Overview
If a force is applied to the blue node, and the red bar is not
present, the behaviour of the structure depends completely on the
bending rigidity of the blue node. If the red bar is present, and
the bending rigidity of the blue node is negligible compared to the
contributing rigidity of the red bar, the system can be calculated
using a rigidity matrix, neglecting angular factors.

In architecture and structural engineering, a space frame

or space structure is a truss-like, lightweight rigid structure constructed from interlocking struts in a geometric
pattern. Space frames can be used to span large areas
with few interior supports. Like the truss, a space frame
is strong because of the inherent rigidity of the triangle; exing loads (bending moments) are transmitted as
tension and compression loads along the length of each

Simplied space frame roof with the half-octahedron highlighted

in blue

The simplest form of space frame is a horizontal slab of

interlocking square pyramids and tetrahedra built from
aluminium or tubular steel struts. In many ways this looks

like the horizontal jib of a tower crane repeated many

times to make it wider. A stronger form is composed
of interlocking tetrahedra in which all the struts have unit
length. More technically this is referred to as an isotropic
vector matrix or in a single unit width an octet truss.
More complex variations change the lengths of the struts
to curve the overall structure or may incorporate other
geometrical shapes.



apart. Each of the layers form a lattice of triangles, squares or hexagons in which the projection
of the nodes in a layer may overlap or be displaced
relative to each other. Diagonal bars connect the
nodes of both layers in dierent directions in space.
In this type of meshes, the elements are associated
into three groups: upper cordon, cordon and cordon
lower diagonal.
Triple layer grid. Elements are placed in three parallel layers, linked by the diagonals. They are almost
always at.

Within the meaning of space frame, we can nd three Other examples we could attach with the denition of
systems clearly dierent between them:[2]
space frame are these:
Curvature classication
Space plane covers. These spatial structures are
composed of planar substructures. Their behavior
is similar to that of a plate in which the deections in the plane are channeled through the horizontal bars and the shear forces are supported by the

Pleated metallic structures. Emerged to try to solve

the problems that formwork and pouring concrete
had their counterparts. Typically run with welded
joint, but may raise prefabricated joints, a fact which
makes them space meshes.
Hanging covers. Designs on the cable taut, spine,
and the catenary arch antifunicular show their ability to channel forces theoretically better than any
other alternative, have an innite range of possibilities for composition and adaptability to any type of
plant cover or ensure vain. However, imprecisions
in shape having the loaded strand (ideally adapts
dynamically to the state of charge) and the risk of
bending the arc to unexpected stresses are problems
that require pre-compression and prestressing elements. Although in most cases tend to be the cheapest and the technical solution that best ts the acoustics and ventilation of the covered enclosure, are vulnerable to vibration.

This train station is supported by a barrel vaults structure.

Barrel vaults. This type of vault has a cross section

of a simple arch. Usually this type of space frame
does not need to use tetrahedral modules or pyramids as a part of its backing.
Spherical domes and other compound curves usually
require the use of tetrahedral modules or pyramids
and additional support from a skin.
Classication by the arrangement of its elements
Single layer grid. All elements are located on the
surface to be approximated.
Double layer grid. The elements are organized in
two layers parallel to each other at a certain distance

The dome is a parashell concrete structure and is the only one

in Scotland. It was constructed using a pioneering technique in
which concrete was poured onto a special neoprene membrane
and then pneumatically inated.

Pneumatic structures. Wherein the closure membrane is subjected to a pressurized state, may be considered within this group.




5.2.2 Cars

Spaceframes are sometimes used in the chassis designs of

automobiles and motorcycles. In both a spaceframe and
a tube-frame chassis, the suspension, engine, and body
Space frames are a common feature in modern building
panels are attached to a skeletal frame of tubes, and the
construction; they are often found in large roof spans in
body panels have little or no structural function. By conmodernist commercial and industrial buildings.
trast, in a unibody or monocoque design, the body serves
Examples of buildings based on space frames include:
as part of the structure.



Tube-frame chassis pre-date spaceframe chassis and are

a development of the earlier ladder chassis. The advantage of using tubes rather than the previous open
Bank of China Tower and the Louvre Pyramid, by channel sections is that they resist torsional forces betI. M. Pei
ter. Some tube chassis were little more than a ladder
chassis made with two large diameter tubes, or even a
Rogers Centre by Rod Robbie and Michael Allan
single tube as a backbone chassis. Although many tubular chassis developed additional tubes and were even de McCormick Place East in Chicago
scribed as spaceframes, their design was rarely correctly stressed as a spaceframe and they behaved me Eden Project in Cornwall, England
chanically as a tube ladder chassis, with additional brackets to support the attached components, suspension, en Globen, Sweden - Dome with diameter of 110 m,
gine etc. The distinction of the true spaceframe is that
all the forces in each strut are either tensile or compres[4]
Biosphere 2 by John P. Allen, Phil Hawes, Peter Jon sion, never bending. Although these additional tubes
did carry some extra load, they were rarely diagonalised
Pearce in Oracle, Arizona
into a rigid spaceframe.[4]
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York City, The rst true spaceframe chassis were produced in the
New York
1930s by designers such as Buckminster Fuller and
William Bushnell Stout (the Dymaxion and the Stout
Large portable stages and lighting gantries are also fre- Scarab) who understood the theory of the true spaceframe from either architecture or aircraft design.[5]
quently built from space frames and octet trusses.
Stansted airport, by Foster and Partners



The rst racing car to attempt a spaceframe was the

Cisitalia D46 of 1946.[5] This used two small diameter
tubes along each side, but they were spaced apart by vertical smaller tubes, and so were not diagonalised in any
plane. A year later, Porsche designed their Type 360 for
Cisitalia. As this included diagonal tubes, it can be considered the rst true spaceframe.[5]

Yeoman YA-1 vs CA-6 Wackett frames.



Jaguar C-Type frame

The CAC CA-6 Wackett and Yeoman YA-1 Cropmaster The Maserati Tipo 61 of 1959 (Birdcage) is often thought
250R aircraft were built using roughly the same welded of as the rst but in 1949 Dr. Robert Eberan-Eberhorst
steel tube fuselage frame.
designed the Jowett Jupiter exhibited at the London Mo-


tor Show in 1949 and taking a class win at the 1950 Le

Mans 24hr. Later the small British car manufacturers developed the concept TVR produced an alloy-bodied two
seater on a multi tubular chassis, which appeared in 1949.

to dynamic loads, and ultimately fatigue fracture, a failure mechanism which is rare in a correctly designed true
space frame. The reduced stiness will also impair the

Colin Chapman of Lotus introduced his rst 'production'

car, the Mark VI, in 1952. This was inuenced by the
Jaguar C-Type chassis, another with four tubes of two
dierent diameters, separated by narrower tubes. Chapman reduced the main tube diameter for the lighter Lotus, but did not reduce the minor tubes any further, possibly because he considered that this would appear imsy
to buyers.[4] Although widely described as a spaceframe,
Lotus did not build a true spaceframe chassis until the
Mark VIII, with the inuence of other designers, with experience from the aircraft industry.[4]

A drawback of the spaceframe chassis is that it encloses

much of the working volume of the car and can make access for both the driver and to the engine dicult. Some
spaceframes have been designed with removable sections,
joined by bolted pin joints. Such a structure had already
been used around the engine of the Lotus Mark III.[6]
Although somewhat inconvenient, an advantage of the
spaceframe is that the same lack of bending forces in the
tubes that allow it to be modelled as a pin-jointed structure also means that such a removable section need not
reduce the strength of the assembled frame.

Other notable examples of space frame cars include the,

Audi R8, Ferrari 360, Lamborghini Gallardo, MercedesBenz SLS AMG and Pontiac Fiero.



cycle at the Museum of Modern Art.

Chilean kitcar showing o its spaceframe structure (2013).

2006 Ducati
A large number of kit cars, possibly the majority made in
the UK, use space frame construction, because manufacture in small quantity requires only simple and inexpensive jigs, and it is relatively easy for an amateur designer
to achieve good stiness with a space frame. Generally
the space frames are MIG welded, although the more expensive kits often use TIG welding, a slower and more
highly skilled process. Many of these resemble the Lotus
Mark VII in general outline and mechanical layout, however others are close replicas of the AC Cobra or Italian
supercars, but some are original designs resembling no
other vehicle. Often, considerable eort has been made
by the designers to produce true space frames, with all
points of signicant load braced in 3 dimensions, resulting in strength and stiness comparable to, or better than,
typical production cars. Others are tube frames but not
true space frames because they use relatively large diameter tubes, often curved, which are carrying bending
loads, but due to the large diameter remain adequately
rigid. However some inferior designs are not true space
frames, because the tubes are carrying considerable bending loads. This will result in considerable exing due

Monster S2R 1000.

5.2.3 Motorcycles and Bicycles

Italian motorbike manufacturer Ducati extensively uses
tube frame chassis on its models.
Space frames have also been used in bicycles, such as
those designed by Alex Moulton.

6 See also
Backbone chassis
Framing (construction)
Platonic solids

Tessellated roof
Stressed skin construction
Tetrahedral-octahedral honeycomb


[1] Evolution of Space Frames Archived November 19, 2015,

at the Wayback Machine. Cities Now
[2] Otero C. (1990). Diseo geomtrico de cpulas no
esfricas aproximadas por mallas triangulares, con un
nmero mnimo de longitudes de barra. Tesis Doctoral.
Universidad de Cantabria.
[3] Cavia Sorret (1993).
[4] Ludvigsen Colin Chapman, p. 153154
[5] Ludvigsen, Karl (2010). Colin Chapman: Inside the Innovator. Haynes Publishing. pp. 150164. ISBN 1-84425413-5.
[6] Ludvigsen Colin Chapman, p. 151

External links
Information about space structures from the University of Surrey(no longer active)
octet truss 3D animation


Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses



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