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Today on Untangled, in our ongoing obsession with order and organization, we examine the art and science of stacking, with a little help from Kailey, a competitive Cup Stacker.
Engineering a stack (or a building) is all about loads and how they’re distributed. The strongest structures distribute loads efficiently.
When Kailey creates a pyramid, for example, she is dividing up the load that the lowest cups are carrying from all the cups above them. Half of every cup’s weight is distributed to each of the two cups beneath it. By distributing the weight of each cup evenly, she creates a very stable structure -- a triangle.
Triangles are efficient shapes, because they distribute loads evenly to the base, that’s why they’re everywhere, in architecture and everyday life: the pyramids, geodesic domes, bridges…
In essence, triangles are very good at resisting moments of force.
Up next is the German art of stacking firewood.
You’ll never look at logs the same way again. Stick around and see. Get it? Because... sticks.
ACT 2 - DESIGNING FAILURE
If there is one thing humans love to stack, it’s wood.
From childhood, we learn to stack blocks of wood. Our first architecture class is playing with blocks.
Stacking, the fundamental building block of...well, building blocks — is all around us.
Moment resistance. Every (successful) structure is designed around preparing for moments—which are the various forces that act on a structure, whether that’s a gust wind or the balance is off. If the design can’t provide enough resistance, the building will fall down.
Take the beautiful Holz Hausen from Germany.
You’re basically building an arch system where you’re distributing forces of compression in the most evenly divided way possible -- along a circle.
We can all agree that woodpiles are fascinating and beautiful. But what they are lacking, of course, is danger and the risk of severe bodily harm. Coming up next, human towers that reach nine stories in the sky with no safety net.
ACT 3 - BUILDING HUMANS
Much like with cups and woodpiles, stacking humans works best when you have more area at the bottom. They start with a circle that’s wider at the bottom, gets narrower toward the top.
But with the human body, there’s a horizontal load (in addition to the vertical load) because humans aren’t rigid structural elements. So it’s kind of like the German woodpile where there’s a bit of an angle to how the vertical load is distributed which creates both a vertical and horizontal load at the base.
This leads us to the idea of flexure, where compression and tension (which are pulling forces) are happening at the same time. That’s flexure.
With a human stack, one side of it is in compression and the other side is in tension, as people start to tip over one way or the other. But humans, unlike most buildings, can use their muscles, balance, and fear of plummeting nine stories to resist the moment of force pulling them over and maintain their shape.
Even after constructing the Great Pyramids, Machu Picchu, and the Arby’s Meat Mountain, humans still aren’t satisfied. We’ll stack anything, even ourselves, in our never-ending quest to get high
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