Developing Space-Filling Fractals

Delving deeper into the world of mathematics, fractals, geometry, and space-filling curves.

 

Foreword

Following my last post on the “…first, second, and third dimensions, and why fractals don’t belong to any of them…“, this post is about documenting my journey as I delve deeper into the subject of fractals, mathematics, and geometry.
The study of fractals is an intensely vast topic. So much so that I’m convinced you could easily spend several lifetimes studying them. That being said, I chose to focus specifically on single-curve geometry. But, keep in mind that I’m only really scratching the surface of what there is to explore.

4.0 Classic Space-Filling

Inspired by Georg Cantor’s research on infinity near the end of the 19th century, mathematicians were interested in finding a mapping of a one-dimensional line into two-dimensional space – a curve that will pass through through every single point in a given space.
Jeffrey Ventrella writes that “a space-filling curve can be described as a continuous mapping from a lower-dimensional space into a higher-dimensional space.” In other words, an initial one-dimensional curve is developed to increase its length and curvature – the amount of space in occupies in two dimensions. And in the mathematical world, where a curve technically has no thickness and space is infinitely vast, this can be done indefinitely.

4.1 Early Examples

In 1890, Giuseppe Peano discovered the first of what would be called space-filing curves:

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4 Iterations of the Peano Curve
An initial ‘curve’ is drawn, then each element of the curve is replace by the whole thing. Here it is done four times, and it’s easy to imagine how you can keep doing this over and over again. One would think that if you kept doing this indefinitely, this one-dimensional curve would eventually fill all of two-dimensional space and become a surface. However it can’t, since it technically has no thickness. So it will be as close as you can get to a surface, without actually being a surface (I think.. I’m not that sure..)
A year later, David Hilbert followed with his slightly simpler space-filing curve:
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8 Iterations of the Hilbert Curve
In 1904, Helge von Koch describes a single complex continuous curve, generated with rudimentary geometry.
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7 Iterations of the Koch Curve
Around 1967, NASA physicists John Heighway, Bruce Banks, and William Harter discovered what is now commonly known as the Dragon Curve.
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13 Iterations of the Dragon Curve

4.2 Later Examples

You may have noticed that some of these curves are better at filling space than others, and this is related to their dimensional measure. They fall under the category of fractals because they’re neither one-dimensional, nor two-dimensional, but sit somewhere in between. For these examples, their dimension is often defined by exactly how much space they fill when iterated infinitely.
While these are some of the earliest space-filling curves to be discovered, they are just a handful of the likely endless different variations that are possible. Jeffrey Ventrella spent over twenty-five years exploring fractal curves, and has illustrated over 200 hundred of them in his book ‘Brain-Filling Curves, A Fractal Bestiary.’ They are organised according to a taxonomy of fractal curve families, and are shown with a unique genetic code.
Incidentally, in an attempt to recreate one of the fractals I found in Jeffery Ventrella’s book, I accidentally created a slightly different fractal. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve created a new fractal and am unofficially naming it ‘Nicolino’s Quatrefoil.’ The following was created in Rhino and Grasshopper, in conjunction Anemone.
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5 Iterations of Nicolino’s Quatrefoil
You can find beautifully animated space-filling curves here:
(along with some other great videos by ‘3Blue1Brown’ discussing the nature of space-filling curves, fractals, infinite math, and more)

On A Strange Note:

It’s possible to iterate a version of the Hilbert Curve that (once repeated infinity) can fill three-dimensional space.
As an object, it seems perplexingly difficult to categorize. It is a single, one-dimensional, curve that is ‘bent’ in space following simple, repeating rules. Following the same logic as the original Hilbert Curve, we know that this can be done indefinitely, but this time it is transforming into a volume instead of a surface. (Ignoring the fact that it is represented with a thickness) It is a one-dimensional curve transforming into a three-dimensional volume, but is never a two-dimensional surface? As you keep iterating it, its dimension gradually increases from 1 to eventually 3, but will never, ever, ever be 2??
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Nevertheless this does actually support a statement I made in my last post suggesting “there is no ‘first’ or ‘second’ dimension. It’s a bit like pouring three cups of water into a vase and asking someone which cup is the first one. The question doesn’t even make sense…

5.0 Avant-Garde Space-Filling

In the case of the original space-filling curve, the goal was to fill all of infinite space. However the fundamental behaviour of these curves change quite drastically when we start to play with the rules used to generate them. For starters, they do not have to be so mathematically tidy, or geometrically pure. The following curves can be subdivided infinitely, making them true space-filling curves. But, what makes them special is the ability to control the space-filling process, whereas the original space-filling curves offer little to no artistic license.

5.1 The Traveling Salesman Problem

Let’s say that we change the criteria, from passing through every single point in space, to passing only through the ones we choose. This now becomes a well documented computational problem that has immediate ‘real world’ applications.
Our figurative traveling salesman wishes to travel the country selling his goods in as many cities as he can. In order to maximize his net profit, he must make his journey as short as possible, while of course still visiting every city on his list. His best possible route becomes exponentially more challenging to work out, as even just a handful of cities can generate thousands of permutations.
There are a variety of different strategies to tackle this problem, a few of which are described here:
The result is ultimately a single curve, filling a space in a uniquely controlled fashion. This method can be used to create single-lined drawings based on points extracted from Voronoi diagrams, a topic explored by Arjan Westerdiep:
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This illustration, commissioned by Bill Cook at University of Waterloo, is a solution to the Traveling Salesman Problem.

5.2 Differential Growth

If we let physics (rather than math) dictate the growth of the curve, the result becomes more organic and less controlled.
In this example Rhino is used with Grasshopper and Kangaroo 2. A curve is drawn on a plain, broken into segments, then gradually increased in length. As long as the curve is not allowed to cross itself (which is achieved here with ‘Collision Spheres’), the result is a curve that is pretty good at uniformly filling space.
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Differential Growth with Rhino & Grasshopper – Kangaroo 2 – Planar
The geometry doesn’t even have to be bound by a planar surface; It can be done on any two-dimensional surface (or in three-dimensions (even higher spacial dimensions I guess..)).
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Differential Growth with Rhino & Grasshopper – Kangaroo 2 – NonPlanar
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Differential Growth with Rhino & Grasshopper – Kangaroo 2 – Single-Curved Stanford Rabbit
Additionally, Anemone can be used in conjunction with Kangaroo 2 to continuously subdivide the curve as it grows. The result is much smoother, as well as far more organic.
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Differential Growth with Rhino & Grasshopper – Kangaroo 2 & Anemone – Octopus
Of course the process can also be reversed, allowing the curve to flow seamlessly from one space to another.
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Differential Growth with Rhino & Grasshopper – Kangaroo 2 & Anemone – BatmanDuck
Here are far more complex examples of growth simulations exploring various rules and parameters:

6.0 Developing Fractal Curves

In the interest of creating something a little more tangible, it is possible to increase the dimension of these curves. Recording the progressive iterations of a space filling curve allow us to generate what is essentially a space-filling surface. This new surface has the unique quality of being able to fill a three-dimensional space of any shape and size, while being a single surface. It of course also shares the same qualities as its source curves, where it keep increasing in surface area (and can do so indefinitely).
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Surface Unrolling Study
If you were to keep gradually (but indefinitely) increasing the area of a surface this way in a finite space, the result will be a two-dimensional surface seamlessly transforming into a three-dimensional volume.

6.1 Dragon’s Feet

Here is an example of turning the dragon curve into a space-filling surface. Each iteration is recorded and offset in depth, all of which inform the generation of a surface that loosely flows through each of them. This was again achieved with Rhino and Grasshopper.
I don’t believe this geometry has a name beyond ‘the developing dragon curve’, so I’ve called it ‘Dragon’s Feet.’
Adding a little thickness to the model allow us to 3D print it.
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Developing Dragon Curve: Dragon’s Feet – 3D Print

6.2 Hilbert’s Curtain

Here is the Hilbert Curve going through the same process, which I am aptly naming ‘Hilbert’s Curtain.’
3D Printed Developing Hilbert Curve
Developing Hilbert Curve: Hilbert’s Curtain – 3D Print
3D Printing Space-Filling Curves with Henry Segerman at Numberphile:
‘Developing Fractal Curves’ by Geoffrey Irving & Henry Segerman:

6.3 Developing Whale Curve

Unsurprisingly this can also be done with differentially grown curve. The respective difference being that this method fills a specific space in a less controlled manner.
In this case with Kangaroo 2 is used to grow a curve into the shape of a whale. Like before, each iteration is used to inform a single-surface geometry.
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Iterative Steps of the Differentially Grown Whale Curve

3D print of the different recursive steps of a space-filling curve
Developing Whale Curve – 3D Print

The Curves of Life

“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

“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

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“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:

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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.

PNEU + PACK

All living organisms are composed of cells, and cells are fluid-filled spaces surrounded by an envelope of little material- cell membrane. Frei Otto described this kind of structure as pneus.

From first order,  peripheral conditions or the packing configuration spatially give rise to specific shapes we see on the second  and third order.

This applies to most biological instances.  On a larger scale, the formation of beehives is a translated example of the different orders of ‘pneu’.

Interested to see the impact of lattice configuration on the forms, I moved on to digital physics simulation with Kangaroo 2 (based on a script by David Stasiuk). The key parameters involved for each lattice configuration are:

Inflation pressure in spheres
Collision force between the spheres
Collision force of spheres and bounding box
Surface tension of spheres
Weight.

 

Physical exploration is also done to understand pneumatic behaviors and their parameters.

This followed by 3D pneumatic space packing. Spheres in different lattice configuration is inflated, and then taken apart to examine the deformation within. This process can be thought of as the growing process of seeds or pips in fruits such as pomegranates and citrus under hydrostatic pressure within its skin; and dissections of these fruits.

As the spheres take the peripheral conditions, the middles ones which are surrounded by spheres transformed into Rhombic dodecahedron, Trapezoid Rhombic dodecahedron and diamond respectively in Hex Grid, FCC Grid,  and Square Grid. The spheres at the boundary take the shape of the bounding box hence they are more fully inflated(there are more spaces in between spheres and bounding box for expansion).

   

Physical experimentation has been done on inflatables structures. The following shows some of the outcome on my own and during an Air workshop in conjunction with Playweek led by Will Mclean and Laylac Shahed.

To summarize, pneumatic structures are forms wholly or mainly stabalised by either
– Pressurised difference in gas. Eg. Air structure or aerated foam structures
– liquid/hydrostatic pressure. Eg. Plant cells
– Forces between materials in bulk. Eg. Beehive, Fruits seeds/pips

There is a distinct quality of unpredictability and playfulness that pneumatic structures could offer. The jiggly nature of inflatables, the unpredictability resulted from deformation by compression and its lightweightness are intriguing. I will call them as pneumatic behaviour. I will continually explore what pneumatic materials and assembly of them could offer spatially in Brief 02. Digital simulations proved to be helpful in expressing the dynamic behaviours of pneumatic structures too, which I intend to continue.

Adaptable Hypars

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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ORBIT

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Narrative | ‘Orbit’, an aluminium tube pavilion stands as a playful take on the orbit of our solar system. A kinetic, inhabitable architectural structure that orbits around itself revealing a central, occupiable space that acts as a ‘center of the universe’  location within which the occupier will experience the rest of the world rotate around them.

Occupiers act as planets orbiting around one another, taking in the beautiful surroundings as each hammock level gently rotates as if it is floating, free from visible connections below, In order to reach these relaxing levels, the occupiers must scale its lightweight structure eventually reaching the central ‘ritualistic’ epicenter.

Physical Description | Orbit stands as a playfully abstract vision of the universes orbit around the sun. Visually the structure is very simple. A series of single recursively scaled down forms provide both the frame work in which to house multiple levels of hammock space to relax whilst also offering a highly structural climbing frame that is scaled in order to reach its epicentre.  It stands tall amongst its neighbours as a combination of both inhabitable architecture and a visually striking art piece.

The structure is composed of multiple interlocking aluminium tubes of varying diameter that hang from a single point supported by the main outer structural framework.  Within the opening at the bottom of each frame is space for hammock netting to be fitted to the aluminium tubing providing an inhabitable space to relax on.

The inset neon LED lighting on the inside of the aluminium tube frame enhances the proposals visual impact at night, illuminating to be seen from near and afar.

Interactivity | There are multiple levels for potential seating, each incorporating a hammock like mesh suspended between the aluminium structure. This provides a comfortable place to relax whilst the structure gently rotates about its axis. As with most exciting Burning Man installations, this structure is climbable with the final point to reach being the central frame large enough for one person to sit in whilst the rest of the structure rotates around them.

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Three-Dimensional Mid-Air Acoustic Manipulation

Lying somewhere between science and art, University of Tokyo scientists Yoichi Ochiai,  Takayuki Hoshi and Jun Rekimoto use precision acoustics to bring the beauty of sound waves to life in three dimensions.

More information here from the University of Tokyo, Nagoya Institute of Technology

Polystyrene beads self organising in mid air

Dr. Siavash Mahdavi and Within Technology Ltd.

A fascinating TEDX lecture with Dr. Siavash Mahdavi, director of Within Technologies Ltd, a London-based consultancy company specialising in higher-end engineering applications and design using 3D printing.The very diverse work includes medical software for bone implants, customized high-heel shoes and spaceship material.

Photography by James Day
Photography by James Day

Above: 3D printed titanium engine part with varying density for force distribution.

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Above: 3D printed cranial implants with varying density.

mainAbove: the medical software by Wthin allows to vary density of lattice depending on forces