Design By Differential Geometry
Yesterday I saw something beautiful.
It is the battle between architecture and structural engineering; fought in real time; on a computer no more powerful than my throw-away laptop.
A flat, abstract, shape, lane in plane; a mesh atop- waiting. A point is picked, dragged into the third dimension; constrained in space, time, and probability. The elements rise to catch this separatist. The new surface rests, self-supporting- a volume of air. Another node is chosen, this time from the edge- thrown; racing towards the centre. Immediately this structural cloth begins to retract; forming a cave- desperate to maintain its structural integrity as the freedoms are limited.
Just as stability is obtained, the apex is anointed by our unseen deity, who begins to pull the face of the hollow forward; urging it to cantilever precariously- forming a dangerous over-hang. But our three dimensional surface structure begins to fight-back, transforming with every frame; sinking the once cavernous opening into a cantledge. It is adapting, countering, maintaining its self-supporting nature; wrestling against a maker who is now clearly intent on its destruction. Already the prescribed lean is declining. The onslaught is over- the contours settle into a more canny form.
Suddenly, what was once a drab grid of mesh elements is alive with a rainbow of compressions and tensions; pockets of intense stresses and swathes of underutilised material mock austerity. Free of manipulation, the structure begins to optimise; in slow-motion the lofted surface shimmers with millions of subtle changes. In a second the chaotic division of forces has been rationalised; the aesthetic unharmed.
It is the battle between architecture and structural engineering; fought in real time; on a computer no more powerful than my throw-away laptop. As art begins to sink its sky hooks into this vulnerable child of conceptual design, physics takes a stand; grounding the structure in reality. In this realm we can wonder not only the conceivable, but the probable.
A marriage of form and function.
For those of you who are wondering why I seem to be off-loading free-form Year 11 poetry (without the angst); it is because I attended a talk from Dr Helmut Pottmann on Computational Differential Geometry and Fabrication Aware Design as part of a distinguished speaker series at UCL. It ended with a demo of software created through this research; approaching the structural concerns of design through geometrical constraints, rather than stress limits.
What I’ve described happened, in real-time, but so far YouTube has failed me in providing anything to your good selves. In a later post I’ll try and sum up those bits of the lecture I managed to follow (without a background in, or even a prepared definition of, differential geometry). I have, however, found the original paper– if you find yourselves in need of some more academic reading…