Itsy-Bitsy Spiders, Cloud Cities and Architecture
Spider silk, one of nature's adaptive materials that we can found in nature. Spiders spin sticky or non-sticky silk, which is a protein that comes from spider's spinnerets. They used it for housing, trapping prays, and even mating. Spider customized their silks to have the appropriate properties like stiffness, stretch, and extensibility.
Some spiders have silk that responds to hydration and has a vibrant color or unusual design like orb-weavers with different golden structural webs that others scent it. Marine spiders used their silk to live underwater by capturing air bubbles in the spider's web to mimic scuba tanks. Some spider also infuses their silk with pheromones to mate or lure out prey. Silk is a means to communicate for spiders too through pheromones, and it can be a dance stage for web-building spiders during mating. Silk seems the mate binding or the bridal veil during courtship. It can attract females to be receptive to mating. Sound strange, right? But it boosts the chances of male spiders during copulation.
Spiders evolved to create webs even before the need for them to catch flies. The spider's silk is strong and flexible, even with anti-microbial properties. Spider web can have any form. Orb-weaver spiders create webs that have orbs or circular patterns in them. Linyphiidae species formed sheetlike webs while Theridiidae has tangled-web. Funnel-web spiders built a burrow-like web and are the most deadly spider. Some spiders dig burrows and gauge it with silk, while others have camouflaging web.
Stabilimenta (web decorations) in spider orb webs. Photo from Blackege, Kuntner, and Agnarsson, The Form and Function of Spider Orb Webs: Evolution from Silk to Ecosystems , Advances in Insect Physiology
While silk is an adaptive building material, we can observe spiders used it as a means for transport. Jumping spiders leap across chasms through their webs by tying it to themselves like a safety rope. It can allow spiders to change direction in mid-air. Through bridging, spiders can traverse along with long distances. Peculiar, but spiders can indeed fly when they released strands of silk to balloon in the sky that picked up by wind. A ballooning spider can reach more than two miles.
People believed spiders have special oils in their feet so that their traps can't trap them, but that is not true. Spiders can manipulate their silk's properties to some extent that it can be sticky and non-sticky at the same time. Spider's web has dotted glues all over intricate web spirals so that they can't be a trap by their traps. Spiders generally have two claws, while the web-weaving spiders have three in their feet.
Closely observing and studying the spider's web, we can explore new synthetic material to build space around that concept. We can look at the pattern or the strength of the web that we can adapt to architecture for functionality and aesthetics. It took us years to have ergonomics, but spiders are doing it for millions of years ahead of us. Spiders used their bodies for measurement when weaving their webs that make their practically ergonomic design. They can move around at ease and at a fast pace without falling into the holes.
An infographic showing how spiders weave orb webs. Photo from Wikimedia
Spiders are ergonomic freaks. They created their web's first three spiral threads and nested them in a Y-shape web to ensure the holes in between the threads are small enough for them not to fall into it. They did it with a natural ergonomic sense. When the radial structure of the web finished, spiders reinforced it to make it stronger and make the added spirals non-sticky for ease of movement. The proportion of the web structure is an ergonomic masterpiece, even with some webs that look chaotic and random patterns appear. The length between the tip of its back leg to its spinnerets reflects the distance between each spiral. Astounding, right? Indeed it is. It shows nature's best work.
We can also get inspiration in building our cities by observing spider colonies and connected spider webs. Sometimes, spiders build interconnected webs that can give us intuition on the design of road grids in our cities. Looking at the pattern of the linked spider webs and studying it, we design our roads that mimic the interconnectivity of these webs. Again, spiders are ergonomic masters, and maybe we can build economic road grids in our cities by reflecting how they build interconnected webs. Hence it is ergonomic, maybe curve traffic through it.
We can design a bridge's cabling system by considering the patterns in a spider web, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Ting Kau Bridge in Hong Kong. A researcher from the University of Stuttgart in Germany created a pavilion inspired by the underwater nest of a water spider that made possible through computational design, simulation, and fabrication process. It has a shell geometry wrapped with fibers that mimic the spider's web and light-transmissive skin. It merges architecture, engineering, and biology to have an adaptive structure like the pavilion.
The interior sculpture of the Moore Elastika Building in Miami resembles a giant spider web. A more direct application of spider's web-inspired design is on glass domes with spider web mimicking trusses. Furniture designers have chairs with silk material in a web-like pattern for both the seat and backrest. We can integrate spider-inspired design into our lives in several ways as we can perceive from the current applications, and it is worth the try.
Artist Tomas Saraceno's obsession with spiders leads to the installation of "In Orbit" in Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany and Inside the hall at the Asia Culture Center Gwangju, South Korea. It resembles a cloud landscape, which is a net that resembles an interconnected spider web. He emphasized that we can learn a lot from spiders, including the possibility of living with climate change. The design boosts the idea of social connectivity that we can construct homes link to one another and live peacefully with different social skills and diversity.
Saraceno envisioned that the future of humanity is living in a seeming connection to one another that we can share habitat in a sustainable city that floats above the clouds. The vision can have us an architecture that gives birth to cloud cities and may one day help with climate change. A utopian dream of interconnectedness, which began from spider webs and a vision of a real connection between humanity, nature, and the universe.
Cloud cities explore the entanglement between our humanity and the environment we live and interact. These ideologies are a metaphor for cloud-performing cities with boundaryless architecture and community and have true freedom in nomadic ways. The cloud cities have pseudo biospheres in balloon-like structures and links through a series of web-like road structures, which divert from the regular urban cities that show boundlessness.
Again, spiders spin silk, whether sticky or non-sticky, which is a protein derived from the spinnerets of spiders. They utilized it for shelter, praying, and even mating. People thought spiders had unique lubricants on their feet that prevented their traps from catching them, but this is not the case. They are ingenious ergonomic geeks that spin their silk to perfection. We can learn a lot from spiders, which we can adapt to our designs, from building structures to city design. It gave the fruit to the idea of cloud cities and is boundaryless architecture. With cloud cities, our humanity achieved has true interconnectedness with community and environment. There is a good intuition that an itsy-bitsy spider schools us to gain a better design that is interconnected and inclusive.
Check out the previous articles on Nature, Architecture and Design series
(Click the image to read the articles/post)
Joseph Becker, Cloud Cities: Tomás Saraceno’s Visionary Architecture, SFMOMA
Jason Bittel, How spider silk is one of the most versatile materials on Earth, National Geographic
Evelyn Kent, Small Spiders, Big Mysteries: Thumb-sized spiders make enormous webs that span the rivers of Madagascar., National Geographic
Photo Credit: ( for photo grids, in order of appearance)
A view of the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. | Photo from Suiseiseki
The Ting Kau Bridge in Hong Kong. | Photo from Cyril Ha
The ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion in University of Stuttgart, Germany. | Photo from ICD/ITKE
Another view of the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion in University of Stuttgart, Germany. | Photo from ICD/ITKE
Zaha Hadid's Elastika in the Moore Building | Photo from Farrisbukhari
A skylight in the rotunda of Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro. | Photo from Anna Carol
"In Orbit" installation in Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin | Photo From Jean-Pierre Dalbéra