Measuring the length of a straight line in the physical world is to test the geometric congruency of two one-dimensional objects – an object of standardized length against an object of unknown length. All one-dimensional objects share the property of similarity and can therefore be “placed against each other” as physical objects (strictly speaking there are no “real” one-dimensional objects but this statement will still apply to the one-dimensional edges of higher-dimensional objects). To make two one-dimensional objects congruent requires breaking/cutting the longer of the two at a single point or stretching the shorter of the two along a single direction.
While all this may seem painfully obvious, the uniqueness of the situation is highlighted when you think about how hard it is to make two non-similar objects of higher dimensions congruent or similar. For example, here is a device for replicating three-dimensional sculptures with the ability to change the size of the reproduction. (For more information about this device you can read this article). Now compare this device to using a ruler and pair of scissors to make two pieces of string the same length.
George Stiny shows how a boundary function is able to map algebras of different dimensions to each other (Shape: Talking About Seeing and Doing, p. 98). In terms of construction, a boundary function can provide ‘templates’ or ‘jigs’ or ‘frameworks’ or ‘guides’ (depending on your method of construction) for objects of a higher dimension using objects of lower dimensions. To cite an example of a project I was personally involved in, the form-work of the Santa Monica Cradle project is an example of two-dimensional plywood ribs being used as a framework for creating a complex, curved, three-dimensional surface from strips of flexible ‘luaun’ ply. In fact, most approaches to constructing an architectural surface involves some kind of underlying linear framework.
If a complex three-dimensional shape can be built using a ‘framework’ of linear shapes, then it can be constructed through simple measurements of length. The most basic way to go from a one-dimensional boundary to a two-dimensional shape through linear measurement alone is through triangles. This method has been used since the time of ancient Egypt where it was used to measure the (two-dimensional) area of land holdings using (one-dimensional) rope as a measuring device.
The ‘Suspension’ series of installations by Ball-Nogues Studio (some of which I was fortunate to be a part of) consist of a series of threads cut to specific lengths, coloured at specific intervals and hung from specific points to form a series of catenaries. When seen together, the strings form complex, multi-coloured, three-dimensional “clouds” suspended in mid air.
- “Suspensions: Feathered Edge by Ball-Nogues Studio”. MoCA PDC, Los Angeles, 2007.
A sturdier and more ancient way of combining linear elements into objects of higher dimensions is weaving. The weaving of cloth goes from one-dimensional thread to a two-dimensional cloth, and the weaving of baskets goes from one-dimension strips (of cane, bamboo, rattan or other materials) to a three-dimensional surface. Kenneth Snelson shows how a tensegrity structure can be thought of as a three-dimensional polyhedron woven out of linear elements.
The process of weaving is therefore an ideal candidate for a manual construction process involving only linear measurement that can be used to construct a digitally designed, complex curved surface. I had woven a quick model based on this premise some months ago using linear fabrication data obtained by running this script on a test surface. After the successful construction of the first bamboo Parametric Pavilion I am now attempting the design and construction of a more complex woven bamboo roof structure for a 150 square meter guest house building. This project will be a test case for implementing the idea of using digitally derived linear construction data for the manual weaving of a complex curved surface.