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What Your Bones Have in Common With the Eiffel Tower

What Your Bones Have in Common With the Eiffel Tower

What does this have to do with Eiffel? Well, Culmann’s approach of graphically representing the push and pull forces was a powerful new tool, one that’s still used today. One of Culmann’s students, Maurice Koechlin, worked for Eiffel. And it was Koechlin who sketched the original concept of the Eiffel Tower, drawing from his training in visualizing forces. The same tools that Culmann developed and used to understand bone were later used by Eiffel’s engineers to design a tower that minimizes the use of material.

First drawing of the Eiffel Tower by Maurice Koechlin.

Koechlin Family /Wikimedia

So while the critics who called Eiffel’s tower a skeleton meant it as insult, it’s actually quite the compliment. When it comes to engineering, we still have a lot that we can learn from our bones.


On the shape of the Eiffel Tower

Sundaram, M. Meenakshi, and GK Ananthasuresh. “Gustave Eiffel and his optimal structures.Resonance 14.9 (2009): 849-865.

Gallant, Joseph. “The shape of the Eiffel Tower.” *American Journal of Physics *70.2 (2002): 160-162.

Weidman, Patrick, and Iosif Pinelis. “Model equations for the Eiffel Tower profile: historical perspective and new results.Mechanical Reports332.7 (2004): 571-584.

On Structural Hierarchy

Lakes, Roderic. “Materials with structural hierarchy.Nature 361.6412 (1993): 511-515.

Wegst, Ulrike GK, et al. “Bioinspired structural materials.” *Nature materials *(2014).

Rayneau-Kirkhope, Daniel, Yong Mao, and Robert Farr. “Ultralight fractal structures from hollow tubes.Physical review letters 109.20 (2012): 204301.

Aizenberg, Joanna, et al. “Skeleton of Euplectella sp.: structural hierarchy from the nanoscale to the macroscale.Science 309.5732 (2005): 275-278.

On the Forces in the Femur

Thompson, Darcy Wentworth. “On growth and form.On growth and form.(1942).

Gray’s Anatomy on the Femur

Ruff, Christopher, Brigitte Holt, and Erik Trinkaus. “Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolff?: “Wolff’s law” and bone functional adaptation.American journal of physical anthropology 129.4 (2006): 484-498.

Phillips, Andrew. “Structural optimization: biomechanics of the femur.arXiv preprint arXiv:1110.1286 (2011).

On the link between Culmann and the Eiffel Tower

Skedros, John G., and Richard A. Brand. “Biographical sketch: Georg Hermann von Meyer (1815–1892).Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research 469.11 (2011): 3072-3076.

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