The natural world is brimming with ratios, and spirals, that have been captivating mathematicians for centuries.
1.0 Phyllotaxis Spirals
The term phyllotaxis (from the Greek phullon ‘leaf,’ and taxis ‘arrangement) was coined around the 17th century by a naturalist called Charles Bonnet. Many notable botanists have explored the subject, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Kepler, and the Schimper brothers. In essence, it is the study of plant geometry – the various strategies plants use to grow, and spread, their fruit, leaves, petals, seeds, etc.
1.1 Rational Numbers
Let’s say that you’re a flower. As a flower, you want to give each of your seeds the greatest chance of success. This typically means giving them each as much room as possible to grow, and propagate.
Starting from a given center point, you have 360 degrees to choose from. The first seed can go anywhere and becomes your reference point for ‘0‘ degrees. To give your seeds plenty of room, the next one is placed on the opposite side, all the way at 180°. However the third seed comes back around another 180°, and is now touching the first, which is a total disaster (for the sake of the argument, plants lack sentience in this instance: they can’t make case-by-case decisions and must stick to one angle (the technical term is a ‘divergence angle‘)).
Next time you only go to 90° with your second seed, since you noticed free space on either side. This is great because you can place your third seed at 180°, and still have room for another seed at 270°. Bad news bears though, as you realise that all your subsequent seeds land in the same four locations. In fact, you quickly realise that any number that divides 360° evenly yields exactly that many ‘spokes.’
Note: This is technically true with numbers as high as 120, 180, or even 360(a spoke every 1°.) However the space between seeds in a spoke gradually becomes greater than the space between spokes themselves, leaving you with one big spiral instead.
1.2 Irrational Numbers
These ‘spokes’ are the result of the periodic nature of a circle. When defining an angle for this experiment, the more ‘rational’ it is, the poorer the spread will be (a number is rational if it can be expressed as the ratio of two integers). Naturally this implies that a number can be irrational.
Sal Khan has a great series of short videos going over the difference between the two [Link]. For our purposes, the important take-aways are:
-Between any two rational numbers, there is at least on irrational number.
–Irrational numbers go on and on forever, and never repeat.
You go back to being a flower.
Since you’ve just learned that an angle defined by a rational number gives you a lousy distribution, you decide to see what happens when you use an angle defined by an irrational number. Luckily for you, some of the most famous numbers in mathematics are irrational, like π (pi), √2 (Pythagoras’ constant), and e (Euler’s number). Dividing your circle by π (360°/3.14159…) leaves you with an angle of roughly 114.592°. Doing the same with √2 and e leave you with 254.558° and 132.437° respectively.
Great success. These angles are already doing a much better job of dispersing your seeds. It’s quite clear to you that √2 is doing a much better job than π, however the difference between √2 and e appears far more subtle. Perhaps expanding these sequences will accentuate the differences between them.
It’s not blatantly obvious, but √2 appears to be producing a slightly better spread. The next question you might ask yourself is then: is it possible to measure the difference between the them? How can you prove which one really is the best? What about Theodorus’, Bernstein’s, or Sierpiński’s constants? There are in fact an infinite amount of mathematical constants to choose from, most of which do not even have names.
1.3 Quantifiable irrationality
Numbers can either be rational or irrational. However some irrational numbers are actually more irrational than others. For example, π is technically irrational (it does go on and on forever), but it’s not exceptionally irrational. This is because it’s approximated quite well with fractions – it’s pretty close to 3+1⁄7 or 22⁄7. It’s also why if you look at the phyllotaxis pattern of π, you’ll find that there are 3 spirals that morph into 22 (I have no idea how or why this is. It’s pretty rad though).
Generating a voronoi diagram with your phyllotaxis patterns is a pretty neat way of indicating exactly how much real estate each of your seeds is getting. Furthermore, you can colour code each cell based on proximity to nearest seed. In this case, purple means the nearest neighbour is quite close by, and orange/red means the closet neighbour is relatively far away.
Congratulations! You can now empirically prove that √2 is in fact more effective than e at spreading seeds (e‘s spread has more purple, blue, and cyan, as well as less yellow (meaning more seeds have less space)). But this begs the question: how then, can you find the most irrational number? Is there even such a thing?
You could just check every single angle between 0° and 360° to see what happens.
This first thing you (by which ‘you,’ I mean ‘I’) notice is: holy cats, that’s a lot of options to choose from; how the hell are you suppose to know where to start?
The second thing you notice is that the pattern is actually oscillating between spokes and spirals, which makes total sense! What you’re effectively seeing is every possible rational angle (in order), while hitting the irrational one in between. Unfortunately you’re still not closer to picking the most irrational one, and there are far too many to compare one by one.
Fortunately you don’t have to lose any sleep over this, because there is actually a number that has been mathematically proven to be the most irrational of all. This number is called phi (a.k.a. the Golden/Divine + Ratio/Mean/Proportion/Number/Section/Cut etc.), and is commonly written as Φ (uppercase), or φ (lowercase).
It is the most irrational number because it is the hardest to approximate with fractions. Any number can be represented in the form of something called a continued fraction. Rational numbers have finite continued fractions, whereas irrational numbers have ones that go on forever. You’ve already learned that π is not very irrational, as it’s value is approximated pretty well quite early on in its continued fraction (even if it does keep going forever). On the other hand, you can go far further in Φ‘s continued fraction and still be quite far from its true value.
Source: Infinite fractions and the most irrational number: [Link] The Golden Ratio (why it is so irrational): [Link]
Since you’re (by which ‘you’re,’ I mean I’m) a flower (by which ‘a flower,’ I mean ‘an architecture student’), and not a number theorist, it’s less important to you why it’s so irrational, and more so just that it is so. So then, you plot your seeds using Φ, which gives you an angle of roughly 137.5°.
It seems to you that this angle does a an excellent job of distributing seeds evenly. Seeds always seem to pop up in spaces left behind by old ones, while still leaving space for new ones.
Expanding the this pattern, as well as the generation of a voronoi diagram, further supports your observations. You could compare Φ‘s colour coded voronoi/proximity diagram with the one produced using √2, or any other irrational number. What you’d find that Φ does do the better job of evenly spreading seeds. However √2 (among with many other irrational numbers) is still pretty good.
1.5 The Metallic Means & Other Constants
If you were to plot a range of angles, along with their respective voronoi/proximity diagrams, you can see there are plenty of irrational numbers that are comparable to Φ (even if the range is tiny). The following video plots a range of only 1.8°, but sees six decent candidates. If the remaining 358.2° are anything like this, then there could easily well over ten thousand irrational numbers to choose from.
It’s worth noting that this is technically not how plants grow. Rather than being added to the outside, new seeds grow from the middle and push everything else outwards. This also happens to by why phyllotaxis is a radial expansion by nature. In many cases the same is true for the growth of leaves, petals, and more.
It’s often falsely claimed that the Φ shows up everywhere in nature. Yes, it can be found in lots of plants, and other facets of nature, but not as much as some people might have you believe. You’ve seen that there are countless irrational numbers that can define the growth of a plant in the form of spirals. What you might not know is that there is such as thing as the Silver Ratio, as well as the Bronze Ratio. The truth is that there’s actually a vast variety of logarithmic spirals that can be observed in nature.
A huge variety of plants have been observed to exhibit spirals in their growth (~80% of the 250,000+ different species (some plants even grow leaves at 90° and 180° increments)). These patterns facilitate photosynthesis, give leaves maximum exposure to sunlight and rain, help moisture spiral efficiently roots, and or maximize exposure for insect pollination. These are just a few of the ways plants benefit from spiral geometry.
Some of these patterns may be physical phenomenons, defined by their surroundings, as well as various rules of growth. They may also be results of natural selection – of long series of genetic deviations that have stood the test of time. For most cases, the answer is likely a combination of these two things.
In some of the cases, you could make an compelling arrangement suggesting that these spirals don’t even exist. This quickly becomes a pretty deep philosophical question. If you put a series of points in a row, one by one, when does it become a line? How close do they have to be? How many do you have to have? The answer is kinda slippery, and subjective. A line is mathematically defined by an infinite sum of points, but the brain is pretty good at seeing patterns (even ones that don’t exist).
M.C. Escher said that we adore chaos because we love to produce order. Alain Badiou also said that mathematics is a rigorous aesthetic; it tells us nothing of real being, but forges a fiction of intelligible consistency.
First, second and third dimensions, and why fractals don’t belong to any of them, as well as what happens when you get into higher dimensions.
In this post, I’m going to try my best to explain the first, second, and third dimensions, and why fractals don’t belong to any of them, as well as what happens when you get into higher dimensions. But before getting into the nitty-gritty of the subject, I think it’s worth prefacing this post with a short note on the nature of mathematics itself:
Alain Badiou said that mathematics is a rigorous aesthetic; it tells us nothing of real being, but forges a fiction of intelligible consistency. That being said, I think it’s interesting to think about whether or not mathematics were invented or discovered – whether or not numbers exist outside of the human mind.
While I don’t have an answer to this question (and there are at least three different schools of thought on the subject), I do think it’s important to keep in mind that we only use math as a tool to measure and represent ‘real world’ things. In other words, our knowledge of mathematics has its limitations as far as understanding the space-time continuum goes.
1.0 Traditional Dimensions
In physics and mathematics, dimensions are used to define the Cartesian plains. The measure of a mathematical space is based on the number of variables require to define it. The dimension of an object is defined by how many coordinates are required to specify a point on it.
It’s important to note that 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.
We usually arbitrarily pick a dimension and calling it the ‘first’ one.
1.1 – Zero Dimensions
Something of zero dimensions give us a point. While a point can inhabit (and be defined in) higher dimensions, the point itself has a dimension of zero; you cannot move anywhere on a point.
1.2 – One Dimension
A line or a curve gives us a one-dimensional object, and is typically bound by two zero-dimensional things.
Only one coordinate is required to define a point on the curve.
Similarly to the point, a curve can inhabit higher dimension (i.e. you can plot a curve in three dimensions), but as an object, it only possesses one dimension.
Another way to think about it is: if you were to walk along this curve, you could only go forwards or backward – you’d only have access to one dimension, even though you’d be technically moving through three dimensions.
1.3 – Two Dimensions
Surfaces or plains gives us two-dimensional shapes, and are typically bound by one-dimensional shapes (lines/curves).
A plain can be defined by x&y, y&z or x&z; more complex surfaces are commonly defined by u&v values. These variable are arbitrary, what is important is that there are two of them.
A surface can live in three+ dimensions, but still only possesses two dimension. Two coordinate are required to define a point on a surface. For example a sphere is a three-dimensional object, but the surface of a sphere is two-dimensional – a point can be defined on the surface of a sphere with latitude and longitude.
1.4 – Three Dimensions
A volume gives us a three-dimensional shape, and can be bound by two-dimensional shapes (surfaces).
Shapes in three dimensions are most commonly represented in relation to an x, y and z axis. If a person were to swim in a body of water, their position could be defined by no less than three coordinates – their latitude, longitude and depth. Traveling through this body of water grants access to three dimensions.
2.0 Fractal Dimensions
Fractals can be generally classified as shapes with a non-integer dimension (a dimensionthat is not a whole number). They may or may not be self-similar, but are typically measured by their properties at different scales.
Felix Hausdorff and Abram Besicovitch demonstrated that, though a line has a dimension of one and a square a dimension of two, many curves fit in-between dimensions due to the varying amounts of information they contain. These dimensions between whole numbers are known as Hausdorff-Besicovitch dimensions.
2.1 – Between the First & Second Dimensions
A line or a curve gives us a one-dimensional object that allows us to move forwards and backwards, where only one coordinate is required to define a point on them.
Surfaces give us two-dimensional shapes, where two coordinate are required to define a point on them.
Here is a shape that cannot be classified as a one-dimensional shape, or a two-dimensional shape. It can be plotted in two dimensions, or even three dimensions, but the object itself does not have access the two whole dimensions.
If you were to walk along the shape starting from the base, you could go forwards and backwards, but suddenly you have an option that’s more than forwards and backwards, but less than left and right.
You cannot define a point on this shape with a single coordinate, and a two coordinate system would define a point off of the shape more often than not.
Each fractal has a unique dimensional measure based on how much space they fill.
2.2 – Between the Second & Third Dimensions
The same logic applies when exploring fractals plotted in three dimensions:
Surfaces give us two-dimensional shapes, where two coordinate are required to define a point on them.
A volume gives us a three-dimensional shape where a point could be defined by no less than three coordinates.
While these models live in three dimensions, they do not quite have access to all of them. You cannot define a point on them with two coordinates: they are more than a surface and less than a volume.
The Menger Sponge for example has (mathematically) a volume of zero, but an infinite surface area.
2.3 – Calculating Fractal Dimensions
The following are three methods of calculating Hausdorff-Besicovitch dimension:
• The exactly self-similar method for calculating dimensions of mathematically generated repeating patterns.
• The Richardson method for calculating a dimensional slope.
• The box-counting method for determining the ratios of a fractal’s area or volume.
In theory, higher (non-integer) dimensional fractals are possible.
As far as I’m concerned however, they’re not particularly good for anything in a three-dimensional world. You are more than welcome to prove me wrong though.
3.0 Higher Dimensions
Sadly, living in a three-dimensional world makes it especially difficult to think about, and nearly impossible to visualise, higher dimensions. This is in the same way that a two-dimensional being would find it impossibly hard to think about our three-dimensional world, a subject explored in the novel ‘Flatland’ by Edwin A. Abbott.
That being said, it’s plausible that we experience much higher dimensions that are just too hard to perceive. For example, an ant walking along the surface of a sphere will only ever perceive two dimensions, but is moving through three dimensions, and is subject to the fourth (temporal) dimension.
3.1 – The Fourth Dimension (Temporal)
If we consider time an additional variable, then despite the fact that we live in a three dimensional world, we are always subject to (even if we cannot visualize) a fourth dimension.
Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it quite plainly by saying:
“[…] you have never met someone at a place, unless it was at a time; you have never met someone at a time, unless it was at a place […]”
Suppose we call our first three dimensions x, y & z, and our fourth t:latitude, longitude, altitude and time, respectively. In this instance, time is linear, and time & space are one. As if the universe is a kind of film, where going forwards and backwards in time will always yield the exact same outcome; no matter how many times you return to a point in point time, you will always find yourself (and everything else) in the exact same place.
However time is only linear for us as three-dimensional beings. For a four-dimensional being, time is something that can be moved through as freely as swimming or walking.
3.2 – The Fourth Dimension (Spacial)
If we explore spacial dimensions, a four-dimensional object may be achieved by ‘folding’ three-dimensional objects together. They cannot exist in our three-dimensional world, but there are tricks to visualise them.
We know that we can construct a cube by folding a series of two-dimensional surfaces together, but this is only possible with the third dimension, which we have access to.
If we visualise, in two dimensions, a cube rotating (as seen above), it looks like each surface is distorting, growing and shrinking, and is passing through the other. However we are familiar enough with the cube as a shape to know that this is simply a trick of perspective – that objects only look smaller when they are farther away.
In the same way that a cube is made of six squares, a four-dimensional cube (hypercube or tesseract), is made of eight cubes.
A line is bound by two zero-dimensional things
A square is bound by four one-dimensional shapes
A cube is bound by six two-dimensional surfaces
A hypercube, bound by eight three-dimensional volumes
It looks like each cube is distorting, growing and shrinking, and passing through the other. This is because we can only represent eight cubes folding together in the fourth dimension with three-dimensional perspective animation.
Perspective makes it look like the cubes are growing and shrinking, when they are simply getting closer and further in four-dimensional space. If somehow we could access this higher dimension, we would see these cubes fold together unharmed the same way forming a cube leaves each square unharmed.
Below is a three-dimensional perspective view of hypercube rotating in four dimensions, where (in four-dimensional space) all eight cubes are always the same, but are being subjected to perspective.
3.3 – The Fifth and Sixth Dimensions
On the temporal side of things, adding the ability to move ‘left & right’ and ‘up & down’ in time gives us the fifth and sixth dimensions.
(For example: x, y, z, t1, t2, t3)
This is a space where one can move through time based on probability and permutations of what could have been, is, was, or will be on alternate timelines. For any one point in this space, there are six coordinates that describe its position.
In spacial dimensions, it is theoretically possible to fold four-dimensional objects with a fifth dimension. However, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to visualise what is happening to the shapes that we’re folding.
In theory, objects can keep being folded together into higher and higher spacial dimensions indefinitely. (R1, R2, R3,R4,R5, R6, R7 etc.)
There’s a terrific explanation of what happens to platonic solids and regular polytopes in higher dimensions on Numberphile: https://youtu.be/2s4TqVAbfz4
3.4 – Even Higher Dimensions
If we can take a point and move it through space and time, including all the futures and pasts possible, for that point, we can then move along a number line where the laws of gravity are different, the speed of light has changed.
Dimensions seven though ten are different universes with different possibilities, and impossibilities, and even different laws of physics. These grasp all the possibilities and permutations of how each universe operates, and the whole of reality with all the permutations they’re in, throughout all of time and space. The highest dimension is the encompassment of all of those universes, possibilities, choices, times, places all into a single ‘thing.’
These ten time-space dimensions belong to something called Super-string Theory, which is what physicists are using to help us understand how the universe works.
There may very well be a link between temporal dimensions and spacial dimensions. For all I know, they are actually the same thing, but thinking about it for too long makes my head hurt. If the topic interests you, there is a philosophical approach to the nature of time called ‘eternalism’, where one may find answers to these questions. Other dimensional models include M-Theory, which suggests there are eleven dimensions.
While we don’t have experimental or observational evidence to confirm whether or not any of these additional dimensions really exist, theoretical physicists continue to use these studies to help us learn more about how the universe works. Like how gravity affects time, or the higher dimensions affect quantum theory.
“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
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.
“because 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.
“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.
“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.
Language has a strong symbolic meaning to the mankind. It is not just a sound but with meanings which then allows to self-express, communicate and inspire. The mechanism of the sound system of languages is translated into visually represented geometries using Chladni’s Law.
3-Dimensional computer generated Chladni Patterns
When the frequencies increase, the pattern gets more complicated.
Tower of Babel – The origin of different languages
“Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly. […] Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:3~4)
(The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel)
It is the story from the Bible but also architectural structure found in Mesopotamia Civilisation – called Ziggurat. It was made of asphalt and baked bricks with total dimensions of 90m x 90m, 90m high. This is equivalent 30th floor building.
The united humanity spoke a single language and agreed to build a city and a tower that is ‘tall enough to reach heaven’. God found such behaviour as rude and disrespectful. He confounded man’s speech so that they could no longer understand each other.
Concept Development through systematic studies of Ziggurat
The frequency and nodes of the word is analysed and recreated as two geometrical forms. They are proportioned according to the Ziggurat Algorithm ratio and timber pieces are stacked up vertically reaching the highest deck at 8m above. The structure encourages to climb complex geometry.
While reaching the top, less intense the space becomes. The LEDs are placed underneath the timber pieces which are concentrated on the top of the tower and scattered following the central void of the structure. Lights illuminate with the voice reactive sensor placed at the top of the tower.
Human always wanted to reach higher points either physical or spiritual. The height of architecture symbolised one’s power and control. This can be observed from the tower of Babel and continues in architectural history. Such expression of the desire of heights lead to competition of building higher structure.
High rise buildings were often found in religious architecture where they had few typical characteristics. First, it was the only tower to observe your land and the only tower which can be seen from everywhere in town. It has a visual meaning that the land within the perspective is the land within control. Second, religious architecture often had music instruments embedded within. This represented the control of the land where music reaches. And finally, high-rise tower was a representation of the centre of universe and sacred space in religious term. The tower, architecture of height is a spatial symbol of man’s deep desires.
The ritual is all about finding the true desire of your own. This begins with constructing the tower where the ritual follows the biblical story of Babel. Climbing up 8m high construct is a challenge then the climbers are rewarded with the beautiful panoramic view of Black Rock city. The climbers will also interact with the installation by continuously stacking up the Babels with anything they can find. Eventually it will deform from the original shape. Then the Babels will be the collective symbol of the Burners’ pure desire.
Whatever your creed your reliance on the sun is unquestionable.
We have worshipped it as a God.
Spent lifetimes studying it through science.
Yet human hands will never touch its surface.
Celestial Field brings our sun to the Playa for us to dance in its glory.
Triggering our own solar flare.
From the dawn of time the sun has been a constant in human life. It has been central to the beliefs of nearly every civilisation throughout history. What was once an astrological wonder sustaining life; dictating when to plant and harvest our crops; evolved into a god and deity, woven into the stories and teachings of nearly every culture, from the Egyptians to the Ancient Greeks and even Christianity.
The oldest man-made structures in the world have resounding astrological connections to both the sun and constellations, covered in carvings they unquestionably align to major astrological events.
Newgrange in Boyne Valley, Ireland, thought to be built in 3500BC, has a tomb in which sits a stone basin lit by a single beam of light at sunrise on the winter solstice.
The Egyptians, Greeks, and Christians have all referenced the sun within their religion and beliefs.
The Egyptians in 3000BC had Ra, the Greeks in 400BC believed Helios to be God of the sun, and Christians have often depicted Jesus in front of what is thought by many to be the solar cross.
In the past the sun has been depicted as a 2Dimensional disk of light travelling across the sky before dying only to be reborn at sunrise.
The Ancient Greeks believed Helios to be the personification of the sun. A man with a many rayed crown of light, pulling the sun across the open sky with a horse drawn chariot. The Helios named after the Greek god has been used and adapted through the ages, with one of the most recognisable iterations being the logo of global corporation BP which symbolises “a number of things – not least the greatest source of energy … the sun itself..” – bp.com
This once celestial being has now become a tangible thing. Through advances in our technological and scientific capability we have gained an understanding of the suns chemical make-up, uncovering many of its secrets from sun spots to solar flares. Although we have developed an increased understanding of the forces driving the sun, it is still no more accessible to us mere humans than on the first day on earth remaining an impenetrable sphere in the sky only to viewed from a far.
Digital animation of lighting tests
The suns surface has taught us much. Galileo’s sun spot diagrams unknowingly demonstrated the unique fluidity of the suns chromosphere. Further study of these sun spots and magnificent solar flares proved that the surface of the sun is covered in billions of interlaced magnetic fields all interacting together to form the whole. When these fields cross swirling plasma burst in an instance out into the corona bringing with it immense light displays that can be seen on earth as the aurora.
In an age where endless streams of newfound knowledge are accessible with the touch of a finger – it is easy to lose our sense of innocent amazement and unquestioning awe. We have a constant need for explanation of why and how phenomena exist, no longer blindly excepting their beauty and revelling in it.
The indescribable beauty of these gigantic magnetic fields can often be lost and forgotten in the mundane when scaled down to earthly objects. Viewing them at a micro scale allows us to connect with their other-worldly nature.
Science has taught us how a magnet attracts and repels enabling use in industry, medicine and everyday life. And as our knowledge expands, we move from child to adulthood and our desire to play diminishes – burdened by explanations and reasoning; we are no longer in awe of our ability to make metal move without laying hands on it. It has become the norm and the expected, it is no longer ‘magic’.
Life should be fun and full of mesmerising moments. Our increased knowledge should enable and enhance our experience of ‘magic’ not hinder it.
Celestial Fields captures the unexplainable wonderment the sun once held and makes it accessible through modern mediums, combining two worlds; science and enchantment, imbedding them on the Playa at Black Rock City, Nevada, for people to explore and lose themselves in.
Thousands of swaying rods made of tubes of one-way mirror form an undulating field, rising high above your head, and falling like the plasma pulled in all directions by the phenomenal magnetic forces found on our sun.
By day a field of mirrors reflect and intensify the suns natural beauty and power. Creating a maze of ever changing light to explore, push through and play within. At sunset everything transforms. The field morphs, bursting into a sea of glowing beams reacting to movement and mimicking the fluid, almost pulsing nature of the suns corona.
Like the chromosphere, magnetic fields have informed density and pattern, creating patches of pure brightness and areas as dark as sunspots. With each rod built on a spring loaded base it can be pushed a manipulated, enabling you to forge your own path through the densest areas of Celestial Field, parting rods like magnets repelling polarised iron.
Movement through the sprung rods creates interest not only for the participants but also onlookers. During daylight hours people weaving in and out can be seen across the playa through the constant glinting of the sun on the reflective rods. An ever changing shimmer, like sunlight dancing across water in the distance, drawing people in from all directions out of wonder and intrigue.
Once the sun has set the lights come on, and the show only gets better. The rods now glow and pulse, changing colour, transforming the world around them – each equipped with a sensor so as to react to movement as people push past; creating tracks of swirling light shifting like the turbulent surface of the sun. Areas of intense and overwhelming light can occur when people team together to trigger a cluster of rods forming a concentration of light evocative of a solar flare.
The sun is not solely about light, with it comes inevitable darkness. Shadows too have been used throughout time as a symbol in opposition to that of the sun; and in this instance the areas of shadow formed in the magnetic layout create areas of calm within the thrill of the lights where one can sit and ponder everything from the dessert to the sky and the sun that brings life to earth.
What was once worshipped as a distant god and celestial being can now exist on the surface of the earth as a Celestial Field in Nevada. The sun has risen and set, bringing with it heat and light; powering life on earth since the dawn of time, a focus of incomprehensible wonder and fascination for each and every culture across the globe.
Celestial Field intends to reignite our faith in the intangible, while showing us there are powers and beauty still to be found in the modern world.
‘The legend of a dream catcher began long time ago, when the child of a Woodland chief fell ill. Unsettled by fever, the child was plagued with bad dreams and unable to sleep. In an attempt to heal him, the tribe’s Medicine Woman created a device that would ‘catch’ these bad dreams. Forming a circle with a slender willow branch, she filled the centre with sinew, using a pattern borrowed from our brother the Spider, who weaves a web. This dream catcher was then hung over the bed of the child. Soon the fever broke, and the child slept peacefully.
It is said that at night, when dreams visit, they are caught in the dream catcher’s web, and only the good dreams are able to find their way to the dreamer, filtering down through the feather. When the warmth of the morning sun arrives, it burns away the bad dreams that have been caught. The good dreams, now knowing the path,visit again on other nights.’ (Oberholtzer, 2012, p9).
Dreamcatchers originated with the Ojibwe, a tribe of Native Americans scattered throughout the areas of the lake country in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and along the southern border of Canada, along the shores of Lakes Huron, Superior and Michigan, whose survival relied on fishing, hunting and trapping.
Traditionally, the dream catchers were made by tying sinew strands onto a few inches in diameter round or tear-shaped frames of willow and were often wrapped in leather.
The spiritual life of the Ojibwa centred around the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Society and focused on the individual spiritual growth, gaining the insight through their dreams or visions.
My project is a re-interpretation of the beliefs that dreams have magical qualities with the ability to change or direct one’s path in life. The bawaajige nagwaagan intends to create a mystical experience, where people are caught inside, similar to the way that bad dreams are caught in the dreamcatcher’s web, and good dreams escape through the centre. The participants are encouraged to climb through the centre and escape their bad dreams and feelings, releasing their spirit through the enclosure. Now they can sleep in the peaceful environment, stimulated by the fantasy of glowing feathers and luminescent rope structures. The pavilion aims for people to sleep, relax and free themselves from stress while being protected by the magical webs of the dream catcher.
Romantic essence of the Native American Culture
The proposal is a celebration of the romantic essence of the Native American Culture. The large scale, three dimensional net is inspired by the native methods and techniques of making dream catchers. It is a manifestation of the traditions and significance of the Native Americans, paying respect and pledging support to the indigenous people of America.
The structure situated in the Burning Man festival commemorates the ceremonies of Native Americans, dedicated to acquiring an insight through dreams and visions. Fasting, or giving up of certain necessities for a certain length of time was a common practice used to enhance one’s ability to access different dreams or visions. Another method was to pour water over hot rocks to produce steam, which enhanced the occurrence of dreams, used as source of introspection. These rituals relate to the festival’s assertion of disconnecting from the necessities of our contemporary world, supplemented by the extreme weather conditions, which are hoped to encourage reflection.
The pavilion responds and works together with the Black Rock desert’s environment, and adds to the wider cultural context of leaving behind the essentials and expectations of the contemporary world while creating a moment for contemplation and tranquility in the magical weaves of the dream catcher.
Form Experimentation_Platonic Forms
The structure will be composed out of three, seven meters in diameter, dream catchers, tilted to form a tetrahedron. Each dream catcher’s net will be made out of 275 meters, 18mm, synthetic hemp rope which will be entwined in 1320 meters of 3mm fluorescent cord. Attached to the frame uv lights will make the fluorescent rope glow at night. Three rings hold the net structure together, with the bottom ring anchored to the ground, made out of T-shape plywood frames. The web of the frame will be 4 layers of 15mm ‘banana’ shaped pieces which will create a circle, together with 4 layers of 230mm x 2400mm x 9mm flange pieces bent in shape of the banana edge. Smaller rings, supporting the centre of the dreamcatcher net will be of similar structure, with 2 layers of banana pieces and 2 layers of 150mm x 2400m x 9mm flange pieces, bent in shape. The frame will be wrapped in 13500 meters of 8mm synthetic hemp with attached fluorescent fabric feathers.
Testing Ideas in 1:1 Scale
Assembly of the net is inspired by a macrame knotting technique rather than weaving which means that the net could be made out of smaller 15 meters long pieces, rather than one 275 m coil of rope, making it easier to assemble and repair. Rope is anchored to the frame with thimbles and shackles, attached to the bolted staple on the plate. The rope is connected with simple S-shape stainless steel hooks. After testing the net I found that although these are easy to assemble, they can create some movement in a connection, therefore I am planning on exploring the idea of ferrules, which could be crimped in place.
The aim is to generate an architectural response through a playful loop between the digital and the physical. Digital tools such as Rhino and Grasshopper are used in order to carry out analysis and generate buildable three-dimensional forms. Interplay between physical fabrication and digital experiments enable to become an inventor of a system. Here is mine.
TriNect is a flexible system of triangular elements with slots at their vertices. Elements interlock with one another creating different space filling polyhedra. The system can be applied in various scales and adapted for different needs.