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Close encounters

Pottering about outside the garden, checking the irrigation in the beds that run between fence and pavement, I had a very close encounter with an incredible spider’s web – causing me to jump out of my skin.


Suspended between basil, hibiscus and Indian laurel, the multi-dimensional, multi-storey structure was the most elaborate web I’ve ever come across.

As I eyed it with alarm, the spinner made for the hedge, leaving me wondering just what kind of spider could possibly weave such a complex architectural masterpiece – and why she had chosen this particular spot.

It could be that, as there is a kind of passage here between trees by the roadside and our hedge, it’s a kind of wind-tunnel for catching any passing insects; or it could be that the shrubs and branches here provide an especially promising superstructure from which to suspend her master-work. Whatever the reason, there it was, glittering in the sun and decorated here and there with pieces of… well, I shudder to think what.

The web brought to mind a fascinating filament structure currently gracing the courtyard of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (until 6th November). The Elytra Pavilion (, spun by a robot using glass and carbon fibre, is a playful, ever-growing architectural project by engineers and architects from the University of Stuttgart. All around, you see incredibly light and airy arches rising upwards and closing overhead: Inspired by the filament structures of the shells of flying beetles (elytra), they are both very light and fabulously strong.

The arches are constructed using a robotic winding technique. There is an infinite variety of spun shapes, no waste and no end of possibilities in the creative process.

While I ponder how to find simple aluminium or even iron hoops to support the netting over the raised beds in my kitchen garden, I’m put to shame by the extraordinary engineering feats of nature’s master-builders. We may imitate them, but I am not sure we can ever equal them.


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