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.
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:
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:
In 1904, Helge von Koch describes a single complex continuous curve, generated with rudimentary geometry.
Around 1967, NASA physicists John Heighway, Bruce Banks, and William Harter discovered what is now commonly known as 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.
You can find beautifully animated space-filling curves here:
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??
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:
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.
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..)).
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.
Of course the process can also be reversed, allowing the curve to flow seamlessly from one space to another.
Here are far more complex examples of growth simulations exploring various rules and parameters:
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).
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.
The proposal reflects on immortality and how our lives would look like if we could reach it. Evolution has sentenced us to the process of aging, and ultimately to death, but as we understand it more and more, we may be able to outwit it. Sounds like paradise? Wouldn’t you want to be immortal?
The art installation is composed of cone shaped cells that divide itself creating new cells, which in turn develop into new ones and the process repeats. The components are made of laser cut, rolled thin sheets of plywood and are connected with metal screws. The structure, measuring approximately 20 feet long and 26 feet high, becomes stronger with every iteration, is structurally stable and self-supporting but on the other side almost invisible and very fragile in appearance. By joining the cone-like shaped cells, a set of domes at different scale is formed which are composed into pavilion serving as shelter to partially protect from sun and wind and casting beautiful shadows at the same time.
The pavilion is providing an opportunity to lay down, calm and contemplate. Look around and reflect on the surroundings – is it the blurred, crowded playa that attracts your attention? Or the cells of the structure that interest you? You have a chance to hide away for a moment and meditate. At night, the structure becomes illuminated from the inside, which highlights the pattern, casting even more beautiful shapes than during the day. You can move the bulb around and play with the light to explore different parts of the structure and look closer into the cells and how they divide themselves.
The concept was born during my research on fractals and their exploration through the Mandelbulb 3D software where by composing different formulas and changing their parameters, I could create beautiful, endless shapes. Infinity is one of the main feature of fractals, therefore, trying to materialize the experiments into physical models was the biggest challenge. To represent endlessness, I started looking at cell division and unicellular organisms, such as bacteria and paramecia, which multiply by dividing themselves. The duration of the cell ends with the division, but the line can be considered immortal.
The life span of a cell usually has specific limits due to telomerase and a separate genetic program of aging and death of complex organisms that evolved only about a billion years ago. Single-celled organisms that lived on Earth before that did not experience either aging or death and at a certain stage of maturity, they divided into two new cells. The first death occurred, when the sexual reproduction appeared – evolution has sentenced us to the process of aging, and ultimately, to destruction. However, recent developments in the field of physiology and medicine show that the elixir of life does not sound like a myth anymore and may become a reality in the future. And what if it becomes a reality? Does it scare you or does it make you happy? The aim of the proposal is to reflect on immortality and how our live would look like if we could achieve it.
Crystal is lost within a sea of flashing lights. She is surrounded by a 6.4×12.8ft cubic lattice structure. She reacts to motion and touch. Walk through the interactive cube that holds Crystal hostage. Can you find her before she fades, and becomes one with the cube?
Finding Crystal is an interactive installation that takes the principles of Crystallography and Bravais Lattices, and uses these principles to create a structural lattice cube. This cube is made of 0.4×0.4ft cubic pieces, fixed on top of, and next to each other to create a 6.4×12.8×12.8ft cube. I have chosen to use a cubic body centered lattice, removing the given structural frame, to allow the internal arrangement to determine the overall structure. The structure is made of steel spheres, steel rods and motion sensor LED lights. Each 0.4×0.4ft structure holds 3 spheres, 4 rods and 3 LED light. These pieces are put together in a puzzle manner to create the entirety of the structure. The art piece is modular and can be easily assembled on site.
Interactivity & Mission
Finding Crystal takes principles from science and combines it with design to create a truly interactive art piece. It uses the science behind crystal lattice structures to produces a structural modular that encompasses the principles of crystallography. Each modular is sized specifically to produce a lightweight structure, reflecting back on the idea of a crystal flake and its lightweight properties.
The entire structure consists of 16384 0.4×0.4ftcubic lattice pieces, with 49152 LED lights. This creates a platform for the experience. The cube is programmed to displays ghost like figures that walk “through” the cube, the figures use human motion to “follow” or “escape” the users. This evokes a form of playfulness between the figure, which is Crystal, and its users.
Crystal is a human. The cube is a symbol of an AI being that is attempting to deceive Crystal. Crystal is trying to escape the hold of the cube, but she is finding it extremely difficult to, the cube keeps misleading her into thinking that she is dependent on it. This piece explores addiction, in any form, by using the cube to confine the users perception of Crystal. Crystal doesn’t believe she can escape the cube, but ultimately, she is the only one that can help herself escape it.
I am deploying this piece in hope that it creates a curiosity behind the connection between technology, science and design. As well as creating a better understanding of someone who is in Crystals position. I’d like to evoke a desire to take these principles and explore with them, I want this piece to inspire and motive people to be creative. I want it to awaken the users curiosity. I want the user to want to explore, understand and interact with the artwork, and take this curiosity further by exploring their own artistic expression.
The intention of this piece is for it to be used as an interactive play experience. In the end, we are just trying to save crystal from herself.
This project involves the conception and design of a new way of mapping constellations, based on subdivision processes like Stellation. It explores how subdivision can define and embellish architectural design with an elaborate system of fractals based on mathematics and complex algorithms.
An abstracted form of galaxy is used as an input form to the subdivision process called Stellation. In geometry, meaning the process of extending a polytope in n dimensions to form a new figure. Starting with an original figure, the process extends specific elements such as its edges or face planes, usually in a symmetrical way, until they meet each other again to form the closed boundary of a new figure.
The material used for this installation will be timber sheets of 1/3 of an inch thickness that will be laser-cut.The panels will be connected to each other with standard connection elements which have already been tested structurally based on an origami structure.
The lighting of the installation will consist on LED strips that will light with burners interactions.
Although stars in constellations appear near each other in the sky, they usually lie at a variety of distances away from the observer. Since stars also travel along their own orbits through the Milky Way, the constellation outlines change slowly over time and through perspective.
There are 88 constellations set at the moment, but I would like to prove that there are infinite amount of stars that have infinite amount of connections with each other.The installation will show you all the possible connections between this stars, but will never rule which connection is the one you need to make.
I would like burners to choose their own stars and draw their own constellations. Any constellation that they can possibly imagine from their one and only perspective, using coloured lights that react to their touch.
The end result will have thousands of different geometries/constellations that will have a meaning for each one of the burners and together will create a new meaningful lighted galaxy full of stars.
On a clear night, away from artificial light, it’s possible to see over 5000 stars with the naked eye. These appear to orbit the Earth in a fixed pattern, as if they are attached to a giant sphere that makes one revolution a day.This stars though are organised in Constellations.
The word “constellation” seems to come from the Late Latin term cōnstellātiō, which can be translated as “set of stars”. The relationship between this sets of stars has been drawn by the perspective of the human eye.
“Omnis Stellae” is a manifestation of the existence of different perspectives. For me, there is great value in recognising different perspectives in life, because nothing is really Black and White, everything relates to the point of view and whose point of view and background that is.
As a fractal geometry this installation embodies an endless number of stars that each person can connect and imagine endless geometries, that will only make sense from their own perspective. The stellated geometry will show you all the possible connections but will never impose any.
“Omnis Stellae” is about creating your own constellations and sharing them with the rest of the burners, is about sharing your own perspective of the galaxy and create some meaningful geometries that might not mean anything to other people but would mean the world to you.
The grand finale is if it could become the physical illustration of all the perspectives of the participants at Burning Man 2018 shown as one.
The Amazing Surf is a complex fractal geometry which ascends toward the light, symbolizing our obsession with reaching for the stars. We use our increasingly digital world to help us extend our reach, but at what point do the shadows we cast reach out above us?
The shape is inspired by the Amazing surf fractal which is generated by a mathematical formula and visualized in Mandelbulb3D. A visually imposing 25ft tall Ply wood hyperbolic structure, with intricate evolving folded panels. Each folded panel is digitally unrolled into a 2D net and CNC milled, the resultant ply components will be glued to a layer of fabric and folded back to their original 3D shape. This construction technique removes the need for a supporting frame, keeping the complex geometry unobstructed from view. A few panels have been removed at the base to make way for an entry point. Neon strips attached to each panel will produce dramatic light patterns on the surface at night. The installation will orient toward the sunset, where the sun appears at it’s closest.
Interactivity & Mission
The piece is intended to be used as an impromptu climbing frame, a ladder to ascend burners above the desert and into the stars. Sunlight will bounce off the multi-faceted shapes, creating intricate patterns of light and shadow. Burners are invited to dance in the light shafts and seek shelter in the shadows. As the shape begins to flatten toward the top, the folded panels can be used as armchairs, where vision will be limited to that of the sky and light above; burners can sit and watch as the sky transforms from day to night.
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you”
As a race we strive to advance, developing new tools and machines to help us in this process. There will come a point in the not too distant future where the machines we have developed to help us will supersede us; we will become so reliant on technology, it will begin to control us. I see the Amazing Surf installation as a juxtaposition to this potential future; on the one hand we are using technology to create built environments that are intricate, beautiful and unique, on the other hand these environments are only attainable through the use of technology. If only we took a moment to look back into the shadows, we could avoid the fate that we are gradually bringing upon ourselves.
(IN)Finitely Bound is a recursive fractal geometrical form, similar to that found in nature. It symbolises the universe and its finite boundary, and is an expression to show us the limitations to which technology can take us. As nothing can be bigger and more powerful than the universe.
(IN)Finitely Bound is a recursive fractal Dodecahedron form, consisting of lengths of 2 by 4 timber held into place using bolts and metal plate joints. The structure will be fully burnable and will be both approximately 7m high and wide. On approach to the piece the structures beauty will be be hard to work out, symbolising our confusion with the colossal scale of the universe but as you get closer you realise the receptive nature of the form and come rest on the structure and understanding as we zoom in on aspects which make up the universe and include ourself within it. The piece will be lit up to gently to allow for meditation, contemplation and open our bodies up to mindfulness.
Interactivity and Mission
The initial singularity was a singularity of infinite density thought to have contained all of the mass and space-time of the Universe. The standard model of cosmology predicts that the universe is infinite and flat. However, cosmologists in France and the US are now suggesting that space could be finite and shaped like a dodecahedron instead. They claim that a universe with the same shape as the twelve-sided polygon can explain measurements of the cosmic microwave background – the radiation left over from the big bang – that spaces with more mundane shapes cannot. In a world where “computational power is increasing exponentially, much like the singularity which created the universe” realising our own finite boundaries is where we take power back from the robots and become masters of our own minds, bodies and universe. The piece through its self-replicating fractal structure creates a dodecahedron (Universal) Boundary defined by perspective. In defining our boundary we are then able to instead of focus our mind inwards, a symbol towards mindfulness.