Kenneth Snelson (born June 29, 1927) is a contemporary sculptor and photographer. He is admired by engineers and architects as the first person to physically demonstrate the building principle known as “tensegrity” a combination of tension and structural integrity. In a tensegrity structure, forces simultaneously push and pull against each other to maintain a strong but flexible shape. The term tensegrity was coined by his former professor, Buckminster Fuller, based on one of Snelson’s sculptures. Snelson, however, prefers the term “floating compression”.
Snelson’s sculptures are composed of stainless-steel rods held in place by tension cables. On the construction of his sculptures, Snelson says,
“Each wire is separate and connects only specific points from one tube end to another, performing a particular task. The wires are never threaded through the structure like a string of beads as appearances might suggest.”
“In assembling the sculpture for the first time, I invariably need to change some of the tension members, remaking them either longer or shorter to achieve the right amount of prestressing. Every part depends on every other part, compression and tension members alike, so that knowing which wire to alter is a matter of experience. After the final adjustment, further changes over time are seldom necessary.”
His sculptures are in museum collections and public spaces around the world, including the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, N.Y. The 60-foot-high Needle Tower at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. is probably his most widely recognized sculpture.
Beyond sculpture, he is known for his panoramic photography and for inspiring scientists and engineers with his idea of floating compression.