Math at the Cooper Hewitt

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan was closed for renovation for three years before  it reopened at the end of 2013. The current exhibition features an overview sample of their vast collection. I was very happy to discover that they have chosen to display quite a bit of work with direct Mathematical links. The debate over the critical delineations between Fine Art and Design is a hot button issue I am not going to address in this blog post. I have selected two pieces that have specific Mathematical themes.

“Prototype for an Environmental Screen, Fibonacci’s Mashrabiya”, 2009 is an architectural element designed by Neri Oxman at MIT Media Lab with Professor W. Craig Carter. It is was created using algorithms and digital processes but is based on traditional screens found in historic middle Eastern design.


The recursive Fibonacci Sequence was used to create the spiral pattern. Here is a detail of the center of the spiral.


Mathematician and artist Daina Taimina has been quite well known for her crocheted sculptures of Hyperbolic Geometry.

“Model of a Hyperbolic Space” 2011, is crocheted out of wool yarn. Working on these sculptures since 1997, Taimina has made major breakthrough on the modelling of figures in Hyperbolic space. Hyperbolic Geometry is a Non-Euclidean Geometry discovered by Janos Bolyai and Nicholay Lobatchevsky in the first half of the 19th century. In Hyperbolic Geometry each point has negative curvature and seems to curve away from itself.

At the Cooper Hewitt there were many more items that featured Mathematics as a design element. There was a very direct indication of the importance Mathematics plays in the field of both decorative and industrial design.



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