Sunday, April 11, 2010

Math and Design meets again!

This is my favorite time to walk on Cornell campus. Cherries on a path by Olin Library do not stay in bloom for long, I always try not to miss those couple days. Yesterday was a perfect day to see them.

 The reason to go to campus on Saturday was Mathematics and Design workshop, organized by Susan Ashdown and Van Dyk Lewis and led by Bill Thurston.

First we had a little glimpse "behind the scenes" of Paris fashion where geometry was taken on catwalk. We had a chance to see some pictures from the show and the reception in Dai Fujiwara's studio. Bill Thurston was wearing the famous jacket designed for him by Fujiwara. The jacket was noted by all journalists when they reported about the Paris fashion show. Susan Ashdown pointed out an interesting detail about orange peels - Bill Thurston often in his classes uses orange peels or cuts the edge of a leaf in order to better explain a concept of surface curvature for those who learn about it for the first time.
When Thurston and Fujiwara started to collaborate, Fujiwara told that orange peels are his favorite tool also -  for design classes! He used them to show a concept that a dress can be made all in one piece - if you carefully peel an orange, you get one long peel that is almost flat. Of course, mathematicians can see that as an example that a sphere which has positive curvature locally can be approximated with a plane. But such verbal explanation for those unfamiliar with differential geometry language sounds intimidating while with the orange peel concepts become clear visually.
Bill Thurston had brought with him a lot of things - as he puts it - "toys to play with". He said:
"Mathematics is all around us, and we are using some mathematically complicated things not noticing it. When we are putting on T-shirt, we are not thinking how difficult it could be to describe this action mathematically, we just take it for granted. Mathematics is to stimulate your imagination. Unfortunately it is missing in most of math classes." Susan Ashdown sadly intercepted: "Sometimes it is missing from design classes too."

Bill Thurston passed out templates to cut and explained how to assemble tools to measure curvature. He said that he was excited finding connections between design ideas and mathematics, and finding that concepts are not really so far apart as people might think:
"I had a lot of fun thinking about these designs and playing with different forms." I have to admit that we all had fun too in this workshop and hopefully students will come up with some new unexpected design ideas.
Bill Thurston explaining how to measure curvature on a body.

Susan Ashdown and Bill Thurston had done some homework earlier by constructing "one piece dress "with seems in unusual places.
Here it is when taken off from a dummy. It is clear that shape is so unusual and non-recognizable that in order to be able to put it back, one has carefully mark where is neck, where is armhole etc.

Then it was time for hands-on part - each group had to figure out how to fit geometric forms (which were made movable) on a body. This was really figuring out about different curvatures - where it is flat, where positive, where negative, how to measure it.

Just a proof - I was there too to play :-)    
In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.  ~Friedrich Nietzsche

My childhood may be over, but that doesn't mean playtime is.  ~Ron Olson

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.  ~Albert Einstein


  1. Love it, Daina! I wish I could have been there... mathematicians who can also 'moonlight' as fashion designers - what fun!

  2. I just came across your blog from your comment on a friend's blog. Its great! I love the mix, and the practical ways of looking at maths. I was very inspired by your hyperbolic crochet models, knitting and maths always seemed so inherently linked to me - it was a breath of fresh air to read of your work.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!