House of Cards: An Engineering Marvel

The building integrity of a house of cards and the building blocks of nature. See why that house of cards doesn’t fall.

The expression “house of cards” can mean something that is built on a weak foundation.

It also is a hobby for card stacking enthusiasts. One definition of card stacking is creating a structure on a very weak and vulnerable base that can literally collapse at any moment.

A simple playing card is not strong at all by any means. Outside of playing a friendly card game, we don’t think of a card as having much capacity to create an engineering feat.

When a card stacker builds a structure, no glue, adhesive or bonding material is used. The cards support each other. Row by row each card contributes to the delicate balance of the whole.

If one card is weak, bent or not placed properly, the entire piece can easily collapse.

Professional card stacker, Brian Berg is the current world record holder for building the tallest house of cards at over 25 feet!

This structure is made from 91,800 cards:

Other card structures on display at state fairs:

How does he do it?

Brian uses Pla-More cards as they have less of a glossy topcoat and lend themselves to easier building. Brian has broken at least seven world records in card building. But is it really about Brian’s special low wax cards? Brian is clearly a scientist as well as an observer of nature.

There are many things in nature that seem to be so weak and yet are so strong. Mother Nature uses the hexagon shape to build some amazingly strong things such as the honeycomb of a beehive, a water crystal and a snowflake.

Structure of a Water Crystal

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The Scutes of a Turtle’s Shell

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A Honeycomb in a Beehive

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A Very Close Snowflake

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Naturally Formed Basalt Columns

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Saturn’s North Pole

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Hexagons in nature fit together without any gaps to make a strong foundation. Hexagons in nature “tessellate” meaning that they repeat themselves over and over using only the same shape as the pieces fit together without any gaps and thus are very strong. Triangles, squares and rectangles also can tessellate the same shape repeatedly without any spaces in between.

In this same way, a card stacker will place the cards in such a way as to not have any gaps in the structure. One gap in the structure will severely weaken the strength of the whole structure. What would happen if the snowflake had a weak link? The entire snowflake could not sustain the weight and collapse, just like a house of cards.

Nature is very efficient and so is a professional card stacker. The total weight of the cards only adds to the overall strength of the structure. The more cards that are successfully stacked, the stronger the actual structure will be.

The successful card stacker uses tessellation in his building of the cards as well. The card stacker will arrange his cards in grids, thus they cannot bend or weaken.

A Grid of Cards as Tessellating Squares

Nature uses this system as well in the construction of honeycomb in beehives. snowflakes, turtle shells and water crystals. Tessellation of the same shape makes the whole structure stronger.

So check out these YouTube links of more incredible card structures and see if you can find the simple principles of nature, in a most complicated human creation. You just might find a whole new meaning for the expression, “house of cards!”

Brian Berg builds the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. out of cards. It took three days for Brian to build this! He is a Harvard grad and has a Master’s in architecture. This is amazing!

This link shows the “demolition” of a creation.

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4 Responses to “House of Cards: An Engineering Marvel”
  1. GG Says...

    On July 6, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I really enjoyed your connection between engineering and science in this piece. A fresh look at something is always interesting!

  2. Hein Marais Says...

    On July 8, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Great Article. Excellent choice of videos and examples.

  3. GD Says...

    On July 9, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    This author never disappoints us. Top flight!

  4. conie Says...

    On August 6, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    You are one of the best writers on this site. Congrats on your BUZZ recognition! No surprise that others think so too!

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