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Yeoryia Manolopoulou, Niall McLaughlin, Michiko Sumi

 

Unit 17 takes a progressive and experimental approach to architecture that is specific to place
and culture. Our work develops through open inquiry. It is founded on the recognition that the
architect works both as scientist and poet being equally engaged in empirical analysis,
abstraction, speculation and invention.

 

Last year we designed and built collectively a concrete-formed building, the Ghost Chapel. Our
theme was time, linked with place and history. This year we took a different take on the same
subject to explore its more mathematical aspects: periodic and cyclical rhythms, simultaneity,
chance and alternating systems in the fabric of our landscapes and urban environments. We
explored the spatiality of some of the most fascinating mathematical ideas embedded in nature,
inside our bodies, and the multitude of networks that condition our cities and daily lives.
Mathematical concepts have shaped our perception of the universe and the evolution of the
cosmos since the Babylonians in the first millennium BC. They influence and explain how
animals, landscape, people and politics interact. They model contemporary global systems,
commodification, finances, communications, data and work flows, climate, the human brain,
social infrastructures, health and population statistics. They condition nature, governance,
economy and human experience.

 

Contrary to the view that sees mathematics exclusively as abstract and the basis of science, we
were interested in the role that mathematical structures can play in shaping everyday
experiences and the spectrum of human creativity across fields: from natural philosophy, biology
and quantum physics to architecture, literature, painting and music. Think about Bach, Theo van
Doesburg, Jorge Luis Borges and contemporary Ryoji Ikeda; and architects from the Ancient
Egyptians to Palladio and Xenakis. Can a contemporary study of mathematics, that is not
reductive, utilitarian or sacred, push architecture to novel directions? One of our questions was to
understand architecture’s association with digital mathematics. Avoiding the simplistic
acceptance of parametricism on the one hand and its severe criticism on the other, we searched
for the spatial, social and aesthetic consequences of mathematical ideas in deeply performative
and experiential projects.

 

Mathematical Forms:
During the first term students produced drawing notations, performative models and large-scale
installations that explored an array of mathematical forms influenced by: the Transfinite, PvNP,
Calculus, Chaos Theory, Prime Numbers, Combinatorics, Rhythmanalysis, Klein Bottle,

Stochastic Processes, the I Ching, Game Theory, Weather Forecasting, and Epigenetics.

Nested Rhythms:
We travelled from Cracow, the Tatras Mountains and Warsaw to Szczecin, Gdynia and Gdansk
on the Baltic sea. Students recorded rhythms whether embedded in urban or rural areas, rivers
or social media platforms. They chose sites for their building projects shifting their attention from
mathematical abstraction to architectural proposition.

©2019 by UNIT 17, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL