“This is the classic reference on how the golden ratio applies to spirals and helices in nature.” – Martin Gardner

The Curves Of Life

What makes this book particularly enjoyable to flip through is an abundance of beautiful hand drawings and diagrams. Sir Theodore Andrea Cook explores, in great detail, the nature of spirals in the structure of plants, animals, physiology, the periodic table, galaxies etc. – from tusks, to rare seashells, to exquisite architecture.

He writes, “a staircase whose form and construction so vividly recalled a natural growth would, it appeared to me, be more probably the work of a man to whom biology and architecture were equally familiar than that of a builder of less wide attainments. It would, in fact, be likely that the design had come from some great artist and architect who had studied Nature for the sake of his art, and had deeply investigated the secrets of the one in order to employ them as the principles of the other.

Cook especially believes in a hands-on approach, as oppose to mathematic nation or scientific nomenclature – seeing and drawing curves is far more revealing than formulas.

252264because I believe very strongly that if a man can make a thing and see what he has made, he will understand it much better than if he read a score of books about it or studied a hundred diagrams and formulae. And I have pursued this method here, in defiance of all modern mathematical technicalities, because my main object is not mathematics, but the growth of natural objects and the beauty (either in Nature or in art) which is inherent in vitality.

Despite this, it is clear that Theodore Cook has a deep love of mathematics. He describes it at the beautifully precise instrument that allows humans to satisfy their need to catalog, label and define the innumerable facts of life. This ultimately leads him into profoundly fascinating investigations into the geometry of the natural world.


Relevant Material


“An organism is so complex a thing, and growth so complex a phenomenon, that for growth to be so uniform and constant in all the parts as to keep the whole shape unchanged would indeed be an unlikely and an unusual circumstance. Rates vary, proportions change, and the whole configuration alters accordingly.” – D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson wrote, on an extensive level, why living things and physical phenomena take the form that they do. By analysing mathematical and physical aspects of biological processes, he expresses correlations between biological forms and mechanical phenomena.

He puts emphasis on the roles of physical laws and mechanics as the fundamental determinants of form and structure of living organisms. D’Arcy describes how certain patterns of growth conform to the golden ratio, the Fibonacci sequence, as well as mathematics principles described by Vitruvius, Da Vinci, Dürer, Plato, Pythagoras, Archimedes, and more.

While his work does not reject natural selection, it holds ‘survival of the fittest’ as secondary to the origin of biological form. The shape of any structure is, to a large degree, imposed by what materials are used, and how. A simple analogy would be looking at it in terms of architects and engineers. They cannot create any shape building they want, they are confined by physical limits of the properties of the materials they use. The same is true to any living organism; the limits of what is possible are set by the laws of physics, and there can be no exception.


Further Reading:


Biomimicry in Architecture by Michael Pawlyn

“You could look at nature as being like a catalogue of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period. And given that level of investment, it makes sense to use it.” – Michael Pawlyn

Michael Pawlyn, one of the leading advocates of biomimicry, describes nature as being a kind of source-book that will help facilitate our transition from the industrial age to the ecological age of mankind. He distinguishes three major aspects of the built environment that benefit from studying biological organisms:

The first being the quantity on resources that use, the second being the type of energy we consume and the third being how effectively we are using the energy that we are consuming.

Exemplary use of materials could often be seen in plants, as they use a minimal amount of material to create relatively large structures with high surface to material ratios. As observed by Julian Vincent, a professor in Biomimetics, “materials are expensive and shape is cheap” as opposed to technology where the inverse is often true.

Plants, and other organisms, are well know to use double curves, ribs, folding, vaulting, inflation, as well as a plethora of other techniques to create forms that demonstrate incredible efficiency.

His life and work  (1919 – 2013)

Born in Turin, Soleri studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Turin in 1946 where he received a doctorate with highest honors. After, he moved to the United States, he was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright for a year and a half in Arizona.

In 1950 Soleri returned to Italy with his wife where he was commissioned to build Ceramica Artistica Solimene; a ceramics factory in Vietri. He adapted the ceramic industry processes learned to use in his designs and production of windbells and siltcast architectural structures.

Although Soleri designed and built homes and bridges, as time went on he turned his attention increasingly to his “arcologies”, which conceptually addresses the interrelationship between architecture and ecology. Soleri complied 30 arcologies in his book, Arcology: The City in the Image of the Man (1969). This featured intricately-rendered cities of the future where people would live, work and play in harmonious self-sufficiency. Arcologies are self-contained, vertically layered megabuildings that combined living, working and natural environments into condensed superorganisms.



Arcology (The City in the Image of Man)

Soleri called for a “highly integrated and compact three-dimensional urban form that is the opposite of urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy and time tending to isolate people from each other and the community”.


Hexahedron Arcology (The City in the Image of Man)


Babelnoah (The City in the Image of Man)

Putting his ideas into motion, Soleri bought land overlooking the Agua Fria River, 70 miles north of Phoenix. This was the start of Arcosanti. Soleri spent most of his career trying to build an eco-Utopia in the desert planned for 5,000 people in 1970. His vision was originally designed to be 20 stories high which supported a study center for experimental workshops and performing arts. The construction was assisted by student volunteers from all over the world to help provide a model demonstrating Soleri’s concept of Arcology.


Arcosanti Apse, 2006 (Provided by Wikipedia)

Arcosanti struggled to attract residents, reaching a peak population of about 200 in the mid-1970s. There are fewer than 60 permanent residents of the town, but thousands of students and tourists still arrive at Soleri’s “urban laboratory” each year to learn more about the architect’s ideas and methods.


Arcosanti, 2005 (Provided by Wikipedia)

He retired from the project in 2011, leaving the continuation of Arcosanti to Jeff Stein, an architect from Boston. Soleri then passed away two years later. As an architect, urban designer, artist, craftsman, and philosopher, Soleri has influenced many in search of a new paradigm for our built environment.


My initial studies stemmed from researching into Stellation. This, in simple terms, is the process of extending  polygon in two dimensions, polyhedron in three dimensions, or, in general, a polytope in n dimensions, to form a new figure. Through researching the application of this process, I came across the sculptures created by George Hart, as he has experimented with stellated geometries to which are subdivided to create mathematical interweaving structures.Stellation 1

My Research into the method and calculations of George Hart’s Mathematical Sculpture’s focused on the sculpture ‘Frabjous’. Through rigorous testing and model making I have understood the rules behind the complex form. This is based on the form of a stellated icosahedron, whose shape is contained within a dodecahedron.grey card model

Lines are drawn from one point, to a point mirrored at one edge of the face of the dodecahedron form – as shown in the diagram. This creates intersecting lines at each face as you can see from the diagrams below. Each dividing line has two intersection points, with symmetry at the center of the line. The sculpture aims to avoid the intersections of these lines by introducing a sine curve with the domain 0 to 2*pi. As you can see, each component is exactly the same – for this model, 30 components are used.

george hart diagram 1george hart diagram 2george hart diagram 3

`To simplify the construction of the sculpture, I extracted a build-able section which uses ten components in total. Two of these sections are then weaved together and joined up by a further ten single components to form the entire sculpture.Diagram Sequence of Researched SculptureOne Component ImageryGeometry 2

Following this research, I extracted the concept of avoiding the intersection and subdivided a cube with lines from each corner of the cube. These lines were then weaved around eachother using a sine curve with a domain of 0 to pi. I then mirrored the curves and rotated them to create an intertwining form.Avoiding Self Intersection 2

Another test was created with the same process, however subdividing a cube using the midpoint of each face. – This creates an octahedral geometry.Avoiding Self Intersection octahedron

Using this interweaving geometry, I have created different three dimensional arrays to create a spatial form. The concept of avoiding intersections naturally cause a structure to fail. To form a structurally efficient version of this geometry, I introduced the idea of a reciprocal structure, and allowed the beams to self support by resting on eachother. This did not create a structure strong enough to stand on, however through adding a cube whose dimensions are equal to the width of the beams, the structure became very strong.

Avoiding Self Intersection octahedron 3

Testing the component at a small scale required the design of a joint which allowed me to assemble these components together through interlocking elements. Each beam element slots into the joint; When two joints and two beams are connected together the curves naturally stay in place due to the angle cut into the joint. Three of these connected elements together form the component.

Diagraming the Joint

As mentioned previously, avoiding intersections create inefficient structures – For this small scale experimentation, the concept of Tensegrity was implemented. Tensegrity is a structural principle based on using isolated compression components within a net of continuous tension, allowing the compression members to not need to touch each other. This model was constructed using 1.5mm plywood which has been laser cut; the modularity of the system ensures minimal material wastage.

Construction Sequence of ModelModel Photographs

The three dimensional array of this geometry creates many interesting shapes and patterns when viewed from different angles – this is visible in the following video:






An exploration of the simplest Hyperbolic Paraboloidic ‘saddle’ form has lead to the development of a modular system that combines the principles of the hypar (Hyperbolic Paraboloid) and elastic potential energy.

A hyperbolic paraboloid is an infinite doubly ruled surface in three dimensions with hyperbolic and parabolic cross-sections. It can be parametrized using the following equations:

Mathematical:   z = x2 – yor  x = y z

Parametric:   x(u,v)=u   y(u,v)=v   z(u,v)=uv

The physical manifestation of the above equations can be achieved by constructing a square and forcing the surface area to minimalise by introducing cross bracing that has shorter lengths than the  square edges.


A particular square hypar defined by b = n * √2 (b=boundary, n=initial geometry or ‘cross bracing’) thus constricting the four points to the corners of a cube leads to interesting tessellations in three dimensions.


Using a simple elastic lashing system to construct a hypar module binds all intersections together whilst allowing rotational movement. The rotational movement at any given intersection is proportionally distributed to all others. This combined with the elasticity of the joints means that the module has elastic potential energy (spring-like properties) therefore an array of many modules can adopt the same elastic properties.


The system can be scaled, shaped, locked and adapted to suit programmatic requirements.


A geometric wall of fire burning on the sands of the Black Rock Desert. This immobile blaze stands as an edifice to Burning Man’s original figurehead. A burning yet fireless wall of plywood and acetate that can be encountered, entered and sheltered in.

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This sculpture stands as an abstract image of flames sent by Vulcan the Roman God of fire, an emblem of the festival’s name. Created from a series of plywood shapes and acrylic, Vulcan’s Flame is a blazing wall of light and colour. The structure is created to both imitate and juxtapose chemical fire, sharing real fires beauty but opposing its destructive tendencies. The sculpture is designed as a wall of shelter, behind which burners can be shielded from the desert’s unforgiving sun.

Born from Ancient Egyptian ‘Cairo tiling’, the sculpture is created from morphing polyhedra. The lowest section of the fire is created from cubes which gradually deform into rhombic dodecahedrons – a cubist interpretation of a flames movement. Internally every shape is painted to mimic fire’s bright hues and coloured acetate panels within the wall will project red and yellow tones onto the surrounding desert floor. At night internal spotlights will illuminate the entire structure, creating a glowing inferno of colour. These lights will flicker to create the illusion of movement.

Visually the main structure consists of three main forms;

  • The outer zone: the sparse cubic section of the sculpture, representing the hottest part of a flame, the region of complete combustion
  • The middle zone: this is the central area in which the cubic deformation begins to occur.
  • The inner zone: this is the coolest space, the most densely packed red area of the sculpture. Burners can crawl into this space – sheltered by four layers of dodecahedrons.

Rendered Plan

Physical Description:

Vulcan’s Flame is a long, low plywood structure, the installation is the geometric interpretation of a flame, a curving sculpture of deforming polyhedral that slowly transform from a cube to a rhombic dodecahedron. The sculpture is created from 55 plywood polyhedra constructed from hand cut plywood boards and secured with cable ties. Internally each shape is painted using natural, organic paints, as the shapes change their internal colour alters from yellow to red. Coloured acetate panels in the uppermost faces of each shape will mirror the shapes internal hue, these panels will allow sunlight through during the day casting beautiful coloured shadows on the desert floor. At night the sculpture will be lit internally with fluctuating spot lights, this will create the illusion of flickering movement. The acetate panels will be secured with nails.

Construction Sequence

The structure sits on a base of 23 plywood shapes, secured to the ground with rebar stakes. The sculpture is very stable as the base is the widest section, the rest of the sculpture tapers away towards the top. Each new shape rest on the 4 corners of the shapes below, bolted through the vertices and then secured with rope. The final and highest rhombic dodecahedron is stabilised with a steel column. The highest point on the entire structure is just over 11 feet above ground level and consists of 4 stacked shapes. A full sized version of one of the shapes has already been constructed and load tested confirming that it can support human weight, all of the cable ties securing the structure will be meticulously rubbed down to ensure they are not sharp.

The sculpture curves in a gentle arc – creating a central area of shelter from the wind and sun. At ground level Burners can crawl inside the structure and rest in it’s shady, tinted interior.

20150129 Single Component

Inspired by previous research of pyritohedrons, these structures are an addition to a series of other models based on polyhedral deformation. Previous models have experimented with density, altering colour and infill panels.

Previous Models

Philosophical Statement:

Inti: The Incan Sun God, his face portrayed as a gold disk from which rays and flames extended. Inti is the Sun and controls all that implies: warmth, light and sunshine. During the festival of Inti Ramyi, held during the Summer Solstice, Inti is celebrated with much drinking, singing and dancing - special statues are made of wood are burned at the end of the festival. This sculpture is an extended physical manifestation of this; decadent ritualism and a spiritual experience.

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Inti incorporates 288 petals are self-assembled into 12 concentric rings, with each petal representing the hours of the day and each ring every month of the year. These are held together using mirror polished circular brackets, designed to catch the light and reflect circles of sunlight around the structure interior. Inti's focus is the sunrise; as the sun rises on the playa, Inti is designed to catch the light at this precise moment and funnel through the piece, enveloping and bathing the burners inside with it's warmth and spirit.

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01 Day

Philosophical Statement:

‘Timber-Wave’; a plywood instillation emerging and crashing on to the desolate Black Rock Desert. This breaking wave a remnant of the retreating Quinn River, draws on imagery of both waves and dunes provoking thoughts of the original Burning Man Beach Parties and surfing counter culture. Simultaneously the design evokes concepts of the Silk Road as a mirage of a giant wave appearing from across the playa to be discover by wondering burners.

The design of the Timber Wave was driven by creating an interactive environment. In daytime, people are encourages to climb and search between the interwoven plywood structure. Open sun soaked communal areas create areas for group contemplation. Solitary areas for single travelers have also been designed as places of refuge from the intense sun, wind and dust storms hoping to encourage serendipity. At night the wave truly come alive as a monument to the sea. Bathed in varying blue tones of color the spectacular structure is a mysterious beacon within the dark playa.

02 Night

Physical Statement:

‘Timber-Wave’  structure consists of 3 layers of 12 intersecting plywood ribbons.  Each ribbon consists of a varying number of water bent plywood components con-caving and con-vexing together forming a rigid series of tensioned and compressed sections.  The result is a homogeneous structure creating a beautiful ergonomically sized spaces. Each ribbon a series of circular penetrations in the form of an abstracted water pattern.  Creating foot and hand holes for climbing as well as allowing dramatic shadows to be cast throughout the structure and across the playa. At night the penetrations allow the lighting of the instillation to spill across the playa and between the layers of the structure.

03 Day

04 Internal Image


1:20 Scale Model

01 Portfolio Review.indd