Numbers as Art: A Long-Standing Architecture Trend

October 26, 2015 architecture 0 Comments

fibonacciLeonardo Pisano Bigollo was an Italian mathematician who published a book on mathematics, Liber Abaci, in 1202. In the book, he asked the following question: “If a pair of rabbits is placed in an enclosed area, how many rabbits will be born there if we assume that every month a pair of rabbits produces another pair, and that rabbits begin to bear young two months after their birth?” This question was the basis for what is now known as the Fibonacci, or golden, sequence.

The answer to the question comes by way of the sequencing. Taking the sum of the numbers 1 and 0 and adding that sum to the last number in the sequence produces this pattern : 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.  This pattern has been used not only to answer the question of mating rabbits, but also the pattern in such things as flowers, pinecones, the spirals on a pineapple and other occurrences in nature. The Fibonacci sequence appears in art, the classical works of Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy, film, poetry and even architecture.

The Golden Sequence and Architectural Design

The use of the Fibonacci sequence in architectural design can be traced to 2560 B.C. and the Great Pyramid of Giza. The pyramids were built on a theory similar in construct to the golden sequence called the golden triangle or proportion. The sides of the pyramid, from base to height, were built in proportion to each other to create a perfectly symmetrical design. The pyramids are a classic example of the Fibonacci sequence and golden triangle principles in action and have stood the test of time as an architectural marvel.

The same holds true for the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The Parthenon is another example of golden proportion, based on the Greeks’ understanding of mathematics in keeping with the principles of Euclidean geometry (named after Greek mathematician Euclid). The proportions (a ratio of 1:1.618 or 0.618:1) used in the Parthenon create an artistic symmetry that was carried over in its replica that was built in Nashville, Tennessee. Other examples of the golden sequence in architecture include The Eden Project located in SW England and the United Nations building in New York City.

The Emergence of Data Artists

Data artists are groups of designers whose work is inspired by data, as they use techniques that allow information to influence the shapes and forms of their art. Their data comes by way of a variety of sources, including GPS trackers, scientific research and other data pools. The emergence of data artists adds another element to architectural design and style in that the incorporation of sequencing and proportions falls in line with the how famous structures of the past (i.e. Parthenon, Pyramids of Giza, etc.) were designed and built.

There are no bounds or limits to the type of structures that can be derived from the work of data artists. Data artist take large sets of numerical data to visually represent relationships by ways of charts, infographics, and more advanced interpretations. Data artists take data to create an artistic expression of life that is not altogether unlike the intent of the earliest examples of prehistoric cave art.

Data Spatialization Transforming Numbers into Art

One of the ways in which the convergence of the Fibonacci sequence and the emergence of data artists has transformed architecture and design is through the use of data spatialization. Data spatialization is an architectural trend that looks at large data sets and transforms them into three dimensions through the use of software. Projects such as the Meander, located at CHS Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the data-driven Centennial Chromograph at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, are two examples of how sequencing based on data spatialization can transform numerical data into functional and informative art.

Data spatialization allows designers to use the principles underlying the Fibonacci sequence to take those elements that occur in nature and recreate them, as artistic expressions in architectural design. The Meander takes its form from the contours of the Upper Mississippi River flowing as a natural border of the State of Minnesota, incorporating data elements that illustrates the changing water conditions of the river while the Centennial Chromograph was created based on the 100 year history of the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture. The influence of numbers, data and the golden sequence (with the help of data spatialization software) have allowed architectural design to transform data visualization in two dimensions into architecture and three-dimensional designs.