Mathematical Equations as Architectonic Forms

[Image: From the Altgeld Math Models Collection at UIUC].

Architects—or really anyone captivated by complex geometric forms—should find something of interest in a small set of images posted over at Wired. From the Altgeld Math Models Collection at UIUC, the photos show complex mathematical equations modeled as architectonic forms, and many of them are stunning.

Here are a few of my favorites, taken not from Wired but from the Altgeld Collection itself. This first model totally blows me away, for example. Imagine this thing blown up to the scale of urban infrastructure and built as a woven coil of multiple suspension bridges intersecting over a river, like some hyper-dimensional Brooklyn Bridge strung between cities.

[Images: From the Altgeld Math Models Collection at UIUC].

The models, of course, are not intended as architectural suggestions. So what were they, really?

“In 1893,” Wired explains, “a prominent mathematician named Felix Klein brought a boatload of models from his laboratory in Göttingen to the World’s Fair in Chicago. These perfect plasters stood out in the pavilion showcasing Germany’s technical achievements. The scientists who walked by took note. Soon major American universities had ordered hundreds of surface models from thick catalogs, and had them shipped thousands of miles over the Atlantic. Large collections remain at MIT, the University of Arizona, Harvard, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose models feature prominently in this gallery.”

[Image: Bridge proposal by Penda for the Salford Meadows design competition].

But, like one of my favorite speculative bridge projects of the last year or two—a proposal designed by Penda for the Salford Meadows competition—I just can’t stop imagining how these could be translated almost exactly into suspension bridges, public plazas, or other works of urban infrastructure.

A city peppered with large, harped megastructures like these would be extraordinary, a kind of inhabitable catalog of topology. Or huge sewers like this, torquing and curling through pretzels of self-intersection beneath our feet. Barbara Hepworth as civil engineer.

Even the relatively simple-looking Math Model 8 would make a delirious pedestrian overpass or skybridge.

[Images: From the Altgeld Math Models Collection at UIUC].

You can read more about the collection over at Wired, but you can also see a lot more images at the Altgeld Math Models Collection itself—like the incredible Math Model 3 (imagine it extruded vertically into a cathedral or power station), the weird floating quasi-object of Math Model 81 (imagine that central vertex as a kind of urban overlook or observation deck), the looming innards of Math Model 44, or the slightly bonkers Math Model 39, seen below.

[Images: From the Altgeld Math Models Collection at UIUC].

You can also help support the collection’s efforts to preserve the models; here is more info.

4 thoughts on “Mathematical Equations as Architectonic Forms”

  1. Now the challenge is to get the algorthym of these into grasshopper / rhino and then generate permutations of these. I think that is when the form/spatial/structural possibilities can really be tested and explored

    Mike Nowson

  2. The Math Model 8 reminds me of Vladimir Shukhov's hyperboloid towers. Very similar internal structure and a beautiful realisation of it too.

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