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Journal of Mathematics and the Arts


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The new mathematics of architecture, by Jan Burry


and Mark Burry
Robert J. Krawczyk

College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, USA


Published online: 17 May 2011.

To cite this article: Robert J. Krawczyk (2011) The new mathematics of architecture, by Jan Burry and Mark Burry, Journal of
Mathematics and the Arts, 5:2, 102-103, DOI: 10.1080/17513472.2011.574933
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17513472.2011.574933

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102

Book Reviews

knowledge, recognized and used mathematical properties. It is for the ethnomathematician to rediscover
and thaw that mathematics.
For teachers, many of the examples could be
developed as class activities; usually, they are not
written as activities, but they are well described. In
some cases, they are formulated as exercises which
could become classroom activities. These can offer
students demonstrations of the contributions of world
historical cultures to mathematical thinking. If the
examples are chosen carefully, they might even fit
directly into a mathematical content section of the
curriculum.
This book has three appendices. The first reconstructs a design and relates it to Gerdes earlier
discussion of Pythagorean relationships found
in woven patterns. The second recalls the now
rather well-known seven symmetry patterns of strip
(frieze) design. The third discusses how a coil wrapped
into a circular mat can lead to an area formula for
circles that Gerdes had written about earlier. A
supplementary book, Otthava Images in Colour,

offers full-colour photographs of many of the images


that are mentioned in this book, including mats,
baskets, hats and paper constructions demonstrating
the structural patterns. It also includes some photos of
the people who do the weaving and scenes from
markets and museums.
In summary, although Otthava is similar to the
many earlier books by Paulus Gerdes, it represents a
more comprehensive view, is more user-friendly in the
technical discussions and has more beautiful photos.
Its content is specific enough that it would be an
unlikely textbook, even for an ethnomathematics class,
but would be an excellent resource for further research.
It continues to demonstrate that much mathematics is
hidden in traditional design.

The new mathematics of architecture, by Jan Burry and


Mark Burry, New York, Thames & Hudson, 2010, 272
pp., US$55.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-500-34264-0.

misused these concepts in many wonderful ways.


Readers who are looking for a relevant example of
mathematical concepts used in design and architecture
will find many in this book. Readers looking for the
precise algorithm or equation that was used in a
particular work will only find fragments or hints and
will be required to do much further research on their
own. When and where these methods should or could
be used or how you could do them yourself is not in the
scope of this book.
The authors point out in the introduction that some
of the work is based on a mathematical idea and some
of the work uses mathematical means to solve a
particular design issue. This may pose a problem for
the reader. If the work is an explicit expression of a
mathematical concept to solve a design issue, then the
reader might want to explore it further. If the work is
inspired by a mathematical concept then such inquiry
is of less importance. The text does emphasize this
distinction. One good example is the Mobius House by
UN Studio, because the text clearly states that it
celebrates the power of such architectural diagrams.
An important observation made by the authors
(and one that is readily apparent from the case studies)
is that digital computational methods have enabled the
exploration of a variety of mathematically based
concepts in the making of architecture. The chapter
on optimization demonstrates the variety of

This book serves as a good starting point for either an


overview or an introduction to mathematical concepts
as demonstrated in the practice of architectural design.
It collects in one place new work together with a
number of already published projects arranged by
mathematical concepts.
In the last decade, there has been a rise in the use of
formal methods to generate architectural forms and
structure. Contemporary software platforms have
enabled greater specification of form and pattern
parameters and relationships; mathematics has
become the basis for this definition and generation.
As more architectural projects are built using such
methods, publications have appeared trying to explain
some of the underlying concepts involved. This book is
the most recent addition. The Burrys, currently at the
RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have been
involved in such notable projects as Sagrade Familia,
Paramorph II and Aegis Hyposurface, all of which
appear in this book.
The authors categorization of mathematical concepts is helpful in understanding the past and may shed
some light on what is possible in the future. They
successfully demonstrate how architects have used and
DOI: 10.1080/17513472.2011.574933

Lawrence Shirley
College of Graduate Studies and Research
Towson University
Towson, MD, USA
Email: LShirley@towson.edu
2011, Lawrence Shirley

Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:53 14 September 2013

Book Reviews
computational methods that have been applied to
architectural design. Projects include structural relaxation methods, manually controlled parameters, finiteelement analysis and structural member optimization.
These all demonstrate some basic use of mathematics
but mostly highlight the computational methods for
their suitability and construction.
The chapter on Datascapes and MultiDimensionality uses mathematical constructs to represent or interpret data, such as atmospheric changes,
and cover mapping concepts. The best example in this
chapter is the Aegis Hyposurface by dECOI Architects;
a real-time modular articulated wall surface that
responds to environmental stimulus, such as the
present and movement of a passerby. In essence, it is
an animated surface.
The chapters in this book are arranged by
underlying mathematical concepts: Mathematical
Surfaces
and
Seriality;
Chaos,
Complexity,
Emergence; Packing and Tiling; Optimization;
Topology; and Datascapes and Multi-Dimensionality.
Each chapter includes introductory text which defines
its scope and defines some of the terminology used.
The bibliography is also organized by chapter providing further information on each concept covered. This
book includes over 628 illustrations including 435 in
colour. The projects selected were, according to the
authors, chosen on architectural grounds rather than
mathematical grounds.
The authors include 46 architectural projects; each
chapter contains from four to eleven projects. Each
project consists of about four to six pages of photographs, text, drawing and diagrams. The visual material is stunning and of consistently high quality
throughout. While the name, architect and location
of each project are given, the date of the project is not
included. In the Notes section of this book you will
find for each project the URL of the architects
website, the clients name and a list of the design and
engineering partners and consultants. Almost all the
projects include a short list of mathematical keywords
that summarize the concepts found in the project.
The Glossary section of this book includes brief
explanations of these keywords. Approximately 58
such terms are covered in the Glossary. They range
from specific mathematical concepts such as recursion
and developable surfaces to more general concepts

103

such as computability and system dynamics, in addition to architecturally specific concepts such as an
Arup optimizer and Vierendeel truss.
The keywords included for each project are a
good start towards understanding the projects underlying mathematical concept. The diagrams and drawings help explain the basic mathematical concept
that was found to be used. References are included
to support these descriptions. At times a full description is not possible. There can be some confusion
if concepts are not broad in scope; the generation of
fractals can be one such concept. The text has an excellent treatment of fractals, and when considering
the Grand Egyptian Museum by Henegahn Pen
it clearly differentiates between the computational
methods of recursive growth and successive
subdivision.
A chapters thematic concepts sometimes apply to
an entire project and sometimes only to smaller
portions of its architectural elements. For example,
curvature is demonstrated by highlighting the individual surfaces in the Disney Concert Hall by Gehry
Partners and the continuous roof of the Main Station
Stuttgart by Ingenhoven Architects. The individual
surfaces are described as developable surfaces and the
continuous roof as a minimal surface. Such differentiation is important. It should also be noted that the
curvature of these surfaces is discussed in general terms
without ever giving the mathematical parameters or
equations that generated or controlled those surfaces.
The Burrys address the somewhat confusing term
new in this books title. It is meant to refer to the
new mathematical focus by architects and not to new
mathematics. I would simply interpret it to mean new
to architects. It will be interesting to see what
generations of more mathematically literate designers
will bring forth in the future. What this all boils down
to is that new to me is just as important.
Robert J. Krawczyk
College of Architecture
Illinois Institute of Technology
Chicago, IL, USA
Email: krawczyk@iit.edu
2011, Robert J. Krawczyk