The honeycomb is probably the epitome of structural efficiency.
Bees have been creating hexagonal comb structures for millenia and humans inspired by the incredible structural strength to weight ratio of their combs have joined them. It is said that the first man-made honeycomb was made by Daedalus using gold by lost wax casting more than 3000 years ago.
In 1859 Charles Darwin said that “the comb of the hive-bee, as far as we can see, is absolutely perfect in economizing labour and wax”.
Little noticed is that even the the closed ends of the honeycomb cells are also an example of geometric efficiency as their trihedral shape allows two opposing honeycomb layers to nest into each other, with each facet of the closed ends being shared by opposing cells.
50 years later D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson discovered that bees build their honeycombs first as cylinders and as they push more wax onto the inside surface they also push the soft sides out and up against the neighboring cylinders. Thus through pressure a natural hexagonal cell with straight sides is born and the confirmation of this is that single isolated bee cells don’t have the same geometric perfection.
Patented in 1926 by Walther Bauersfeld the chief engineer of the Carl Zeiss optical company, the Geodesic Dome was not only stronger than a honeycomb or any hexagonal structure, but was also curved.
However because the most efficient use of materials in a two-dimensional space is done by tessellating hexagonal parts and not triangular ones, hexagonal structures/domes have since been developed utilizing some additional structural support.
A good example is the Eden Project designed by Architect Nicholas Grimshaw and Structural Engineer Anthony Hunt in 2011. The Eden Project domes use an unusual tetrahedral-truss, which requires little additional material and results in a remarkably thin dome.
For more information on the Eden Project, visit www.whowithwhat.com.
In recent years because of its structural and rich aesthetic properties, honeycomb structures have become a very popular subject and feature in architectural design. Architects with the help of powerful computer software have begun transforming traditionally linear honeycomb structures into more organic and complex forms. This practice is called structural morphology, or parametric tessellation.
Below are some interesting images of honeycomb morphology from http://www.grasshopper3d.com.
Honeycomb morphology works in multiple dimensions; the first is 2 dimensional where each hexagon in the tessellation is a different size. The size can depend on both aesthetic and function.
The second is 3 dimensional where each hexagon cell has a different depth.
Below is a link short movie of an interesting structure fro Stephen Crawford.
And finally to take structural morphology further still, the form of each cell can be softened and rounded.
If you want to try making your own tessellations download free Parametric Patterns Designer for OSX.