Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Science of Building Structures

Science Goals for Building Structures

After explorations, students will be able to understand:

  • Forces need to be balanced for a building to stay up.

  • Gravity will pull a structure down unless it is stable.

  • Stable structures can be repeated over time.

  • Different building materials have different properties.

 

What Are Forces?

Forces are one of the basic features of physics. There are different types of forces, but in general:

  • Forces can make objects move.

  • Forces can hold objects together, like a gravitational force.

  • Forces can change the speed, direction, or shape of an object.

 

Forces Acting on Structures

  • Gravity: The attraction that objects exert on one another, such as the strong force between the Earth and objects on it.

  • Tension: the “pull-apart” force

  • Compression: the “push-together” force

 

The Science of Design and Stability

  • Larger buildings have larger forces acting upon them.

  • Buildings must balance these forces in order to be stable.