The Nature of Gridshell Form Finding

Grids, shells, and how they, in conjunction with the study of the natural world, can help us develop increasingly complex structural geometry.


This post is the third installment of sort of trilogy, after Shapes, Fractals, Time & the Dimensions they Belong to, and Developing Space-Filling Fractals. While it’s not important to have read either of those posts to follow this one, I do think it adds a certain level of depth and continuity.

Regarding my previous entries, it can be difficult to see how any of this has to do with architecture. In fact I know a few people who think studying fractals is pointless.

Admittedly I often struggle to explain to people what fractals are, let alone how they can influence the way buildings look. However, I believe that this post really sheds light on how these kinds of studies may directly influence and enhance our understanding (and perhaps even the future) of our built environment.

On a separate note, I heard that a member of the architectural academia said “forget biomimicry, it doesn’t work.”

Firstly, I’m pretty sure Frei Otto would be rolling over in his grave.

Secondly, if someone thinks that biomimicry is useless, it’s because they don’t really understand what biomimicry is. And I think the same can be said regarding the study of fractals. They are closely related fields of study, and I wholeheartedly believe they are fertile grounds for architectural marvels to come.

7.0 Introduction to Shells

As far as classification goes, shells generally fall under the category of two-dimensional shapes. They are defined by a curved surface, where the material is thin in the direction perpendicular to the surface. However, assigning a dimension to certain shells can be tricky, since it kinda depends on how zoomed in you are.

A strainer is a good example of this – a two-dimensional gridshell. But if you zoom in, it is comprised of a series of woven, one-dimensional wires. And if you zoom in even further, you see that each wire is of course comprised of a certain volume of metal.

This is a property shared with many fractals, where their dimension can appear different depending on the level of magnification. And while there’s an infinite variety of possible shells, they are (for the most part) categorizable.

7.1 – Single Curved Surfaces

Analytic geometry is created in relation to Cartesian planes, using mathematical equations and a coordinate systems. Synthetic geometry is essentially free-form geometry (that isn’t defined by coordinates or equations), with the use of a variety of curves called splines. The following shapes were created via Synthetic geometry, where we’re calling our splines ‘u’ and ‘v.’

Uniclastic: Barrel Vault (Cylindrical paraboloid)

These curves highlight each dimension of the two-dimensional surface. In this case only one of the two ‘curves’ is actually curved, making this shape developable. This means that if, for example, it was made of paper, you could flatten it completely.


Uniclastic: Conoid (Conical paraboloid)

In this case, one of them grows in length, but the other still remains straight. Since one of the dimensions remains straight, it’s still a single curved surface – capable of being flattened without changing the area. Singly curved surfaced may also be referred to as uniclastic or monoclastic.

7.2 – Double Curved Surfaces

These can be classified as synclastic or anticlastic, and are non-developable surfaces. If made of paper, you could not flatten them without tearing, folding or crumpling them.

Synclastic: Dome (Elliptic paraboloid)

In this case, both curves happen to be identical, but what’s important is that both dimensions are curving in the same direction. In this orientation, the dome is also under compression everywhere.

The surface of the earth is double curved, synclastic – non-developable. “The surface of a sphere cannot be represented on a plane without distortion,” a topic explored by Michael Stevens:

Anticlastic: Saddle (Hyperbolic paraboloid)
This one was formed by non-uniformly sweeping a convex parabola along a concave parabola. It’s internal structure will behave differently, depending on the curvature of the shell relative to the shape. Roof shells have compressive stresses along the convex curvature, and tensile stress along the concave curvature.
Kellogg’s potato and wheat-based stackable snack
Here is an example of a beautiful marriage of tensile and compressive potato and wheat-based anticlastic forces. Although I hear that Pringle cans are diabolically heinous to recycle, so they are the enemy.
11 Tensile and Compressive behaviour of shells.jpg
Structural Behaviour of Basic Shells [Source: IL 10 – Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design]

7.3 – Translation vs Revolution

In terms of synthetic geometry, there’s more than one approach to generating anticlastic curvature:
Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Straight line sweep variation

This shape was achieved by sweeping a straight line over a straight path at one end, and another straight path at the other. This will work as long as both rails are not parallel. Although I find this shape perplexing; it’s double curvature that you can create with straight lines, yet non-developable, and I can’t explain it..

Ruled Surface & Surface of Revolution (Circular Hyperboloid)
The ruled surface was created by sliding a plane curve (a straight line) along another plane curve (a circle), while keeping the angle between them constant. The surfaces of revolution was simply made by revolving a plane curve around an axis. (Surface of translation also exist, and are similar to ruled surfaces, only the orientation of the curves is kept constant instead of the angle.)
Hyperboloid Generation [Source:Wikipedia]

The hyperboloid has been a popular design choice for (especially nuclear cooling) towers. It has excellent tensile and compressive properties, and can be built with straight members. This makes it relatively cheap and easy to fabricate relative to it’s size and performance.

These towers are pretty cool acoustically as well:


8.0 Geodesic Curves

These are singly curved curves, although that does sound confusing. A simple way to understand what geodesic curves are, is to give them a width. As previously explored, we know that curves can inhabit, and fill, two-dimensional space. However, you can’t really observe the twists and turns of a shape that has no thickness.

Geodesic Curves - Ribon.jpg
Conic Plank Lines (Source: The Geometry of Bending)

A ribbon is essentially a straight line with thickness, and when used to follow the curvature of a surface (as seen above), the result is a plank line. The term ‘plank line’ can be defined as a line with an given width (like a plank of wood) that passes over a surface and does not curve in the tangential plane, and whose width is always tangential to the surface.

Since one-dimensional curves do have an orientation in digital modeling, geodesic curves can be described as the one-dimensional counterpart to plank lines, and can benefit from the same definition.

The University of Southern California published a paper exploring the topic further:

8.1 – Basic Grid Setup

For simplicity, here’s a basic grid set up on a flat plane:

Basic geodesic curves on a plane

We start by defining two points anywhere along the edge of the surface. Then we find the geodesic curve that joins the pair. Of course it’s trivial in this case, since we’re dealing with a flat surface, but bear with me.

Initial set of curves

We can keep adding pairs of points along the edge. In this case they’re kept evenly spaced and uncrossing for the sake of a cleaner grid.

Addition of secondary set of curves

After that, it’s simply a matter of playing with density, as well as adding an additional set of antagonistic curves. For practicality, each set share the same set of base points.

Grid with independent sets

He’s an example of a grid where each set has their own set of anchors. While this does show the flexibility of a grid, I think it’s far more advantageous for them to share the same base points.

8.2 – Basic Gridshells

The same principle is then applied to a series of surfaces with varied types of curvature.

Uniclastic: Barrel Vault Geodesic Gridshell

First comes the shell (a barrel vault in this case), then comes the grid. The symmetrical nature of this surface translates to a pretty regular (and also symmetrical) gridshell. The use of geodesic curves means that these gridshells can be fabricated using completely straight material, that only necessitate single curvature.

Uniclastic: Conoid Geodesic Gridshell

The same grid used on a conical surface starts to reveal gradual shifts in the geometry’s spacing. The curves always search for the path of least resistance in terms of bending.

Synclastic: Dome Geodesic Gridshell

This case illustrates the nature of geodesic curves quite well. The dome was free-formed with a relatively high degree of curvature. A small change in the location of each anchor point translates to a large change in curvature between them. Each curve looks for the shortest path between each pair (without leaving the surface), but only has access to single curvature.

Anticlastic: Saddle Geodesic Gridshell

Structurally speaking, things get much more interesting with anticlastic curvature. As previously stated, each member will behave differently based on their relative curvature and orientation in relation to the surface. Depending on their location on a gridshell, plank lines can act partly in compression and partly in tension.

On another note:

While geodesic curves make it far more practical to fabricate shells, they are not a strict requirement. Using non-geodesic curves just means more time, money, and effort must go into the fabrication of each component. Furthermore, there’s no reason why you can’t use alternate grid patterns. In fact, you could use any pattern under the sun – any motif your heart desires (even tessellated puppies.)

6 - Alternate Grid
Alternate Gridshell Patterns [Source: IL 10 – Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design]

Here are just a few of the endless possible pattern. They all have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of fabrication, as well as structural potential.

Biosphere Environment Museum - Canada
Biosphere Environment Museum – Canada

Gridshells with large amounts of triangulation, such as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres, typically perform incredibly well structurally. These structure are also highly efficient to manufacture, as their geometry is extremely repetitive.  

Centre Pompidou-Metz - France
Centre Pompidou-Metz – France

Gridshells with highly irregular geometry are far more challenging to fabricate. In this case, each and every piece had to be custom made to shape; I imagine it must have costed a lot of money, and been a logistical nightmare. Although it is an exceptionally stunning piece of architecture (and a magnificent feat of engineering.)

8.3 – Gridshell Construction

In our case, building these shells is simply a matter of converting the geodesic curves into planks lines.

O - Saddle 2
Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Straight Line Sweep Variation With Rotating Plank Line Grid

The whole point of using them in the first place is so that we can make them out of straight material that don’t necessitate double curvature. This example is rotating so the shape is easier to understand. It’s grid is also rotating to demonstrate the ease at which you can play with the geometry.

Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Flattened Plank Lines With Junctions

This is what you get by taking those plank lines and laying them flat. In this case both sets are the same because the shell happens to the identicall when flipped. Being able to use straight material means far less labour and waste, which translates to faster, and or cheaper, fabrication.

An especially crucial aspect of gridshells is the bracing. Without support in the form of tension ties, cable ties, ring beams, anchors etc., many of these shells can lay flat. This in and of itself is pretty interesting and does lends itself to unique construction challenges and opportunities. This isn’t always the case though, since sometimes it’s the geometry of the joints holding the shape together (like the geodesic spheres.) Sometimes the member are pre-bent (like Pompidou-Metz.) Although pre-bending the timber kinda strikes me as cheating thought.. As if it’s not a genuine, bona fide gridshell.

Toledo Gridshell 2.0. Construction Process [source: Timber gridshells – Numerical simulation, design and construction of a full scale structure]

This is one of the original build method, where the gridshell is assembled flat, lifted into shape, then locked into place.

9.0 Form Finding

Having studied the basics makes exploring increasingly elaborate geometry more intuitive. In principal, most of the shells we’ve looked are known to perform well structurally, but there are strategies we can use to focus specifically on performance optimization.

9.0 – Minimal Surfaces

These are surfaces that are locally area-minimizing – surfaces that have the smallest possible area for a defined boundary. They necessarily have zero mean curvature, i.e. the sum of the principal curvatures at each point is zero. Soap bubbles are a great example of this phenomenon.

hyperbolic paraboloid soap bubble
Hyperbolic Paraboloid Soap Bubble [Source: Serfio Musmeci’s “Froms With No Name” and “Anti-Polyhedrons”]
Soap film inherently forms shapes with the least amount of area needed to occupy space – that minimize the amount of material needed to create an enclosure. Surface tension has physical properties that naturally relax the surface’s curvature.

Kangaroo2 Physics: Surface Tension Simulation

We can simulate surface tension by using a network of curves derived from a given shape. Applying varies material properties to the mesh results in a shape that can behaves like stretchy fabric or soap. Reducing the rest length of each of these curves (while keeping the edges anchored) makes them pull on all of their neighbours, resulting in a locally minimal surface.

Here are a few more examples of minimal surfaces you can generate using different frames (although I’d like stress that the possibilities are extremely infinite.) The first and last iterations may or may not count, depending on which of the many definitions of minimal surfaces you use, since they deal with pressure. You can read about it in much greater detail here:

The Eden Project – United Kingdom

Here we have one of the most popular examples of minimal surface geometry in architecture. The shapes of these domes were derived from a series of studies using clustered soap bubbles. The result is a series of enormous shells built with an impressively small amount of material.

Triply periodic minimal surfaces are also a pretty cool thing (surfaces that have a crystalline structure – that tessellate in three dimensions):

Another powerful method of form finding has been to let gravity dictate the shapes of structures. In physics and geometry, catenary (derived from the Latin word for chain) curves are found by letting a chain, rope or cable, that has been anchored at both end, hang under its own weight. They look similar to parabolic curves, but perform differently.

Kangaroo2 Physics: Catenary Model Simulation

A net shown here in magenta has been anchored by the corners, then draped under simulated gravity. This creates a network of hanging curves that, when converted into a surface, and mirrored, ultimately forms a catenary shell. This geometry can be used to generate a gridshell that performs exceptionally well under compression, as long as the edges are reinforced and the corners are braced.

While I would be remiss to not mention Antoni Gaudí on the subject of catenary structure, his work doesn’t particularly fall under the category of gridshells. Instead I will proceed to gawk over some of the stunning work by Frei Otto.

Of course his work explored a great deal more than just catenary structures, but he is revered for his beautiful work on gridshells. He, along with the Institute for Lightweight Structures, have truly been pioneers on the front of theoretical structural engineering.

9.3 – Biomimicry in Architecture

There are a few different terms that refer to this practice, including biomimetics, bionomics or bionics. In principle they are all more or less the same thing; the practical application of discoveries derived from the study of the natural world (i.e. anything that was not caused or made my humans.) In a way, this is the fundamental essence of the scientific method: to learn by observation.
Example of Biomimicry

Frei Otto is a fine example of ecological literacy at its finest. A profound curiosity of the natural world greatly informed his understanding of structural technology. This was all nourished by countless inquisitive and playful investigations into the realm of physics and biology. He even wrote a series of books on the way that the morphology of bird skulls and spiderwebs could be applied to architecture called Biology and Building. His ‘IL‘ series also highlights a deep admiration of the natural world.

Of course he’s the not the only architect renown their fascination of the universe and its secrets; Buckminster Fuller and Antoni Gaudí were also strong proponents of biomimicry, although they probably didn’t use the term (nor is the term important.)

Gaudí’s studies of nature translated into his use of ruled geometrical forms such as hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids, helicoids etc. He suggested that there is no better structure than the trunk of a tree, or a human skeleton. Forms in biology tend to be both exceedingly practical and exceptionally beautiful, and Gaudí spent much of his life discovering how to adapt the language of nature to the structural forms of architecture.

Fractals were also an undisputed recurring theme in his work. This is especially apparent in his most renown piece of work, the Sagrada Familia. The varying complexity of geometry, as well as the particular richness of detail, at different scales is a property uniquely shared with fractal nature.

Antoni Gaudí and his legacy are unquestionably one of a kind, but I don’t think this is a coincidence. I believe the reality is that it is exceptionally difficult to peruse biomimicry, and especially fractal geometry, in a meaningful way in relation to architecture. For this reason there is an abundance of superficial appropriation of organic, and mathematical, structures without a fundamental understanding of their function. At its very worst, an architect’s approach comes down to: ‘I’ll say I got the structure from an animal. Everyone will buy one because of the romance of it.”

That being said, modern day engineers and architects continue to push this envelope, granted with varying levels of success. Although I believe that there is a certain level of inevitability when it comes to how architecture is influenced by natural forms. It has been said that, the more efficient structures and systems become, the more they resemble ones found in nature.

Euclid, the father of geometry, believed that nature itself was the physical manifestation of mathematical law. While this may seems like quite a striking statement, what is significant about it is the relationship between mathematics and the natural world. I like to think that this statement speaks less about the nature of the world and more about the nature of mathematics – that math is our way of expressing how the universe operates, or at least our attempt to do so. After all, Carl Sagan famously suggested that, in the event of extra terrestrial contact, we might use various universal principles and facts of mathematics and science to communicate.

The Wishing Well

something caught in between dimensions – on its way to becoming more.


The Wishing Well is the physical manifestation, a snap-shot, of a creature caught in between dimensions – frozen in time. It is a digital entity that has been extracted from its home in the fractured planes of the mathematical realm; a differentially grown curve in bloom, organically filling space in the material world.

The notion of geometry in between dimensions is explored in a previous post: Shapes, Fractals, Time & the Dimensions they Belong to



The piece will be built from the bottom-up. Starting with the profile of a differentially grown curve (a squiggly line), an initial layer will be set in pieces of 2 x 4 inch wooden studs (38 x 89 millimeter profile) laid flat, and anchored to the ground. Each subsequent layer will be built upon and fixed to the last, where each new layer is a slightly smoother version than the last. 210 layers will be used to reach a height of 26 feet (8 meters). The horizontal spaces in between each of the pieces will automatically generate hand and foot holes, making the structure easily climbable. The footprint of the build will be bound to a space 32 x 32 feet.

The design may utilize two layers, inner and out, that meet at the top to increase the structural integrity for the whole build. It will be lit from within, either from the ground with spotlights or with LED strip lights following patterns along the walls.

Different Recursive Steps of a Dragon Curve


At the Wishing Well, visitors embark on a small journey, exploring the uniquely complex geometry of the structure before them. As they approach the foot of the well, it will stand towering above them, undulating organically across the landscape. The nature of the structure’s curves beckons visitors to explore the piece’s every nook and cranny. Moreover, its stature grants a certain degree of shelter to any traveller seeking refuge from the Playa’s extreme weather conditions. The well’s shape and scale allows natural, and artificial, light to interact in curious ways with the structure throughout the day and night. The horizontal gaps between every ‘brick’ in the wall allows light to filter through each layer, which in turn casts intriguing shadows across the desert. This perforation also allows Burners to easily, and relatively safely, scale the face of the build. Visitors will have the opportunity to grant a wish by writing it down on a tag and fixing it to the well’s interior.

171108 - Burning Man Timber Brick Laying Proposal View 2.jpg



If you had one magical (paradox free) wish, to do anything you like, what would it be?

Anything can be wished for at the Wishing Well, but a wish will not come true if it is deemed too greedy. Visitors must write their wish down on a tag and fix it to the inside of the well. They must choose wisely, as they are only allowed one. Additionally, they may choose to leave a single, precious, offering. However, if the offering does not burn, it will not be accepted. Visitors will also find that they must tread lightly on other people’s wishes and offerings.

The color of the tag and offering are important as they are associated with different meanings:

  • ► PINK – love
  • ► RED – happiness, joy, success, good luck, passion, vitality, celebration
  • ► ORANGE – change, adaptability, spontaneity, concentration
  • ► YELLOW – nourishment, warmth, clarity, empathy, being free from worldly cares
  • ► GREEN – growth, balance, healing, self-assurance, benevolence, patience
  • ► BLUE – conservation, healing, relaxation, exploration, trust, calmness
  • ► PURPLE – spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing
  • ► BLACK – profoundness,  stability, knowledge, trust, adaptability, spontaneity,
  • ► WHITE – mourning, righteousness, purity, confidence, intuition, spirits, courage

The Wishing Well is a physical manifestation of the wishes it holds. They are something caught in between – on their way to becoming more. I wish for guests to reflect on where they’ve been, where they are, where they are going, and where they wish to go.

171108 - Burning Man Timber Brick Laying Proposal View 1.jpg

Mixpinski’s Myriad

In mathematics a fractal is an abstract object used to describe and simulate naturally occurring objects. Artificially created fractals commonly exhibit similar patterns at increasingly small scales. It is also known as expanding symmetry or evolving symmetry.  Mandelbulb 3D allows us to explore fractals in 3D, creating a seamless amalgamation of maths, art and science.

Understanding how this geometry can become infinite and how it can be built within the constraints of the physical reality was part of the philosophy of my piece.

Mandelbulb 3d fractals:


161117 FRACTAL sheet 1

From these specific chosen 3d Fractals I noticed a clear correlation with the natural formation of crystalline structures, in particular Hopper crystals.

Hopper crystals form when there is more rapid growth at the outer edges of a face than at the centre. This results in what appears to be a hollowed out step lattice formation, as if someone had removed interior sections of the individual crystals. This missing part was never actually developed as the crystals grow so rapidly that there is never time for this to be developed. Hopper crystals are very similar to the cubic halite skeletal crystals formed from extreme supersaturation in salt lakes existing in nature. Hopper crystals can be found in rose quartz, gold, calcite, bismuth, salt and ice. I looked at the growth of these crystals to better understand the structural qualities.

Hopper Crystal Formation:

161117 FRACTAL sheet 3.1

From looking at the crystalline structure it became apparent that the connection between the tapered levels was very important to the structure and adaptability of the proposal. The versatility of this connection allows for flexibility and movement within the module. The connector can be placed on any material simply by adapting the end nodes width to factor for the material depth. By creating this modular junction I can join all the stepped timber elements of the proposal in such a way that they are all supporting each other.

Connection options:

161117 FRACTAL sheet 2

Hopper crystal growth is never as predicted due to outside influences such as movement and temperature change. These influences creates the beautiful images we see of their crystalline forms and without these the fractal crystal growth would be predictable and simplistic. It is with these outside interactions that the crystals have their own idiosyncrasies. By combining the hopper crystal growth with the organic forms created with the 3d fractal generator, I created a pavilion proposal. Using a stepped form and the junction designed above I could use the unpredictable growth lines to create an interesting pavilion which can be experienced in the same way that crystals would grow, naturally and not within their algorithmic form. Nature does not always conform to predictability. The pavilion expresses this individuality and in turn expresses the way in which we grow as individuals, adapting to our environments and moulded by our experiences.

This project is a physical exploration of crystal formation centred around the theme of fractals. It aims to combine one joint in order to create a crystalline structure. Inspired by the geometry from the crystalline growth the lattice structure provides sanctuary and calm in a sea of dust and at night mesmerising myriads of stepped lights will illuminate the playa.271117 render night.jpgThe proposed installation will be formed of a mixture of 2 x 4 timber with CNC curved plywood pieces incorporated into the structure. Each 2 x 4 will have a joint or a pocket in order for it to slot into and support the weight of the neighbouring beam or column. The project will appear out of the sand as an elegant stepped fractal structure which gives the proposal an ecclesiastical ambiance.

231117 close up night

The intertwined stepped lattice timber elements form congregation and celebratory spaces, whilst capturing special views of the playa. The stepped elements promote Burners to climb and crawl between the spaces created by the overlapped timbers. At night when you ascend through the individual spaces the lights will constantly change and oscillate. With the lights constantly changing and staggering further through the elements the stepped structure will be enhanced.  The project aims to play with the burners’ perception of depth where the lattice stepped geometry is staggered and rotated. At night this perception is further confused by  the LED coloured strips oscillating along the staggered stepped beams and columns. The burners can seek sanctuary in a space in which dimensionality and form is confused and adapted.

271117 renderday







Symbol- Language and Sound into System

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.


BabelTower 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.cymatictotal2

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.


Through the inviting but challenging spirals I want to bring you to the inside of the dust storms, to the dead zone where you don’t feel anything, not even a single hint of air or dust but you will still enjoy the beauty and the magic.

The symbol of the spiral

Through the inviting but challenging spirals I want to bring you to the inside of the dust storms, to the dead zone where you don’t feel anything, not even a single hint of air or dust but you will still enjoy the beauty and the magic.


What is an spiral?

Spiral_stairs_(спирално_степениште).jpgA curve on a plane that winds around a fixed center point at a continuously increasing or decreasing distance from the point.

A three-dimensional curve that turns around an axis at a constant or continuously varying distance while moving parallel to the axis; a helix. By definition describes a planar curve, that extends in both of the perpendicular directions within its plane; the groove on one side of a record closely approximates a plane spiral (and it is by the finite width and depth of the groove, but not by the wider spacing between than within tracks, that it falls short of being a perfect example); note that successive loops differ in diameter. In another example, the “center lines” of the arms of a spiral galaxy trace logarithmic spirals.

161025_Construction of the spiral_002.jpg
Analysis of the construction of the spiral

 What does the spiral mean to us?

Spirals are some of the oldest geometric shapes in ancient artwork dating back at least to the Neolithic period, the product of people thousands of years away from having access to writing. As such, we know very little about their religious beliefs and can, at best, guess about general meanings of symbols based on context.

Maialen Calleja_210x594_120gsm_UniverisyOfWestminster_Page_32.jpg

Spiral to me means CHANGE, means CYCLE OF LIFE, means EVOLUTION all these is what The eye of the Storm is to me. A structure that will symbolize change as the same way Burning Man changes people; the cycle of life, the merging of completely different kinds of lives into the same place or same art structure or same festival; and evolution because it will attract you to the inside and will make you push yourself and challenge you towards the center where you will feel the peace of the eye of a storm as the same way life does to us.

To me The eye of the Storm symbolizes THE LIFE CHANGING, every frame of each spiral is an action, a decision you make in life that leads you to the place you want to be or the person you want to become. Although like in a windy storm that pushes you around, these events are not necessary your choice, many factors in life can change your path like a new elect president in the country or falling in love with a person, but all these merged together will consolidate our lives.Hence that is our task, putting all these frames together and connect them to become whatever we want to be and finally find the peace inside of each one of us.

Daytime render of “The eye of the storm”

Breaking down a six sided box The eye of the storm has six spirals, each one of them in a different orientation, symbolizing different kinds of paths in life. But each one of these spirals merge in the center of the cube creating a space of peace. Like the feeling of going through the Burning Man festival until the day the Temple burns when everything goes silent and calm.

The spirals, made out of standard size timber, will attract you to the center but these will be challenging like going towards a storm.The shape of the structure could become an obstacle but if you success you will get your reward of peacefulness in the center, protected by all these wooden spirals and with the chance to share these moment with whoever makes it through the storm with you.

Nightime render

Making the storm real

Starting from a box and breaking its frame into spirals is the basic starting geometry of The eye of the Storm. Going through many different testings and alterations on the parameters and after an structural analysis leading to the final shape.

Design process through parametric modelling

Looking at the materializing of the structure and mimicking the aesthetics of a storm, the overlaying wood planks give the sense of it. Structured but at the same time crazy, just like Black Rock City.

161031_Diagram spiral CREATING A SOLID_004.jpg

Testing of different materials

Building the eye of the storm

The structure is composed of 6 identical modules called twists, arranged in cuboid manner. Each twist is formed of frame elements and ribs connecting those frames, which act as ruled surfaces.

Vertical loads are spread between the outer frames and the central bottom twist that acts in vending and axial force to carry the vertical load to the ground. Lateral forces are resisted using the perimeter frames acting as bracing or the in-plane rigidity of the modules themselves.

Structural analysis from engineering

The frames with a cross section of 50 by 50 mm will be the main structure. Eleven frames on each side of the 6 sides of the cube, making a total of 66 frames.

The overall length of this out of the shelve timber will be 45.5 meters.

By the interpolation of the division points on the main frames we create the secondary structure which will support and interlock the main frame, with a cross section of 10 by 50 mm.

The overall length of this out of the shelve timber is 672 meters

Building sequence: One of the six sides of the cube


The structure is arranged in a cubic form of 14 x 14 x 14 feet and will invite the people to climb,interact and inhabit it. This can represent a health and safety risk. In order to ensure the safety of all actors interacting with the sculpture at each stage of the project, we will be following the right safety requirements.


Construction on The Playa

Feeling the dust at Black Rock City

Sand storms that make you lose sense of time, space, people or anything else that happens around you create these magical moments in Playa when every burner feels alone in a place full of people.


With The Eye of the Storm I want to bring you to the inside of these dust storms, to the dead zone where you don’t feel anything not even a single hint of air or dust but you still enjoy the beautiful magic of the storm. Through the challenging spiral structure inviting burners to come in, I want them to come inside the eye to the safety of being inside the storm and at the same time experiencing all the dust storms happening in Playa which are a natural ritual that happens every year.

We can compare the plague from the Exodus with any of the dust storms that we go through at burning man, The eye of the storm is a structure calling at the sun on these occasions.

People experiencing the inside of the storm

The experience from the outside is compared with a tornado in a sand storm. Symbolizing a constant sand storm, kept in a broken box, which often happens in Playa. Within the overlaying of the wood frames experiencing the messiness of a storm but at the same time the spiral of the rotating structured nature force.While in the inner geometry you will sense none of this in the same way as in the dead zone or in the eye of the storm. All the layers of the structure will protect everyone inside from any sand storms in the outside. It wont be easy to reach that inner point as this all wooden layer will be complicated to cross like when you go through a storm and you are not able to find anyone around you and you feel in a place of nowhere.

Construction diagram

The overall dimensions of the structure are 14 x 14 x 14 feet. Allowing people to get inside and experience the space in between the frames.

Front view: Technical drawing

The shadows from the structure will project a similar form as an spider web.Simulating as the sun goes around through the day, a tornado moving through The Playa.

Perspective plan view of the structure

The reward to cross all these layers of wood through is to be in this protected space inside the Eye and experience the storm from the inside until you are ready to leave the peace and call Ra the god of the sun as in Egyptian rituals when the Pharaoh called the God to clear the skies from the storm and get back the sun to Black Rock City.

Abstract render of the structure

Once the ritual is finished the burners will enjoy a view of the dust storm in a protected space while they wait the answer of the call to Ra the god of sun, who will finish with the dust storm and bring the sun back again.

Entrance to the structure from the top spiral

The thunder-light

The LED lights will be located on each one of the frames on every side of the cube. They will be located on the inner face of these frames flowing from the outside to the inside of the cube, giving the sensation of the spiral coming inwards the structure.

TOTAL LENGTH : 45.5 meters

Night render of the structure

At night the structure will become and spiral of colorful thunder lights that you will recognize from everywhere in The Playa.

Inside night render



By Maialen Calleja , Master of Architecture ( University of Westminster)

The London Housing Crisis – Survey

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 22.20.30

As part of my research to inform my final thesis project on the London Housing Crisis, I have created a short multiple choice survey that would benefit greatly from the input of members of the WeWantToLearn community who have lived in London at any point over the past six years. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete and will directly influence the design progression of my project in the coming weeks. Please spare a few moments to participate, and/or share with friends and relatives who may be able to contribute also.

You can find the survey at the following link: Here

All survey responses are anonymous.

Thank you in advance.

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.


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.