IMAGINE PARKING YOUR CAR ON THE THIRD LEVEL OF A TENT
Consider the soap bubble and the steel beam. Which shape would you guess is stronger? Believe it or not, it’s not the steel beam.
We think soap bubbles are beautiful since the shape equally distributes its curvature. No part of the surface bends any more or any less than any other part. But the beautiful curvature also makes the shape incredibly strong since it equally distributes the structural forces as well.
However manipulating the shape of a soap bubble to take advantage of this strength is not easy. Although mathematicians have long been able to calculate the equations that define the bubble’s shape, no designer has been able to harness it for a specific purpose.
In the modern world, forged from the insights of the industrial revolution, we create immensely tall skyscrapers that hang off simple rectangular skeletons of highly engineered steel. If we used a sophisticated shape to evenly distribute the load instead, we need not use heavy steel. Rather than concentrate the loads, lightweight and inexpensive materials could produce similar structural feats. Only the shape must change. We must now build a shape that is continually curving.
If we are just as clever in sculpting shape as we are in amalgamating steel, we can build just as tall, just as strong, and just as vast, using lightweight every day materials instead.