Our paper at this years IASS conference (here) introduced a new method of exploring funicular structures by dynamically linking the mass applied to a zero-length spring system (dynamic mass method). This provided non-unique funicular solutions on a projected rectilinear grid that still proved to have very good stress distributions amongst members.
I have now applied the method to hexagonal structures which will provide unique solutions for statically determinate systems. This is important because it enables the designer to view the member forces in real time whilst relaxation is taking place, loads are adjusted and/or as boundary conditions are tweaked. Extension to area elements is also achieved by applying a force proportional to the dual of the hexagonal grid, inspired by Williams (1986) and recent work by Block (2007) - growing and contracting meshes to follow soon.
I’m primarily interested in this approach because of its speed and the fact it cannot be replicated using a physical system (practically speaking). As with Daniel Piker’s STF4 presentation, we are now in a position where processing power can help us make structurally-informed design decisions at the conceptual stage of design that go beyond physical modelling.
Block P. and Ochsendorf J. P., “Thrust Network Analysis: a new methodology for three-dimensional equilibrium”, Journal of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2007, pp. 167-173
Williams, C. J. K., Defining and designing curved flexible tensile surface structures, The mathematics of surfaces, Ed. J.A. Gregory, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1986, pp. 143-177.