Published in 2010, The New Mathematics of Architecture is the culmination of extensive research on the development of a novel mathematical focus in the domains of Architecture and Design over the last three decades. The book presents a collection of 46 diverse projects grouped within six chapters; the content throws light on the evolution of mathematics and computation in design, as to how they enabled visualization and construction of complex geometries devised by new mathematical principles in use.
The math here does not refer to conventional mathematical concepts, but post 17th-century ideas like non-euclidean geometry, aperiodic tiling, chaos theory, developable surfaces, inversion, minimal surfaces, and the like.
The book starts with a foreword by Brett Steele titled Weapons of the Gods, talking about the intertwinement between Mathematics and Architecture, comparing and contrasting their distinctions, yet their ultimate unison in creating form, space, and experiences, whilst transgressing challenges posed. Following this comes a rather lengthy introduction to the book by the authors Jane and Mark Burry: the duo being researchers at RMIT – Melbourne, in the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, they have clearly broken down the application of abstract mathematical concepts to the range of projects featured.
The way the book is composed makes it easier for anyone to pick up knowledge about the topics deliberated about: lying at the intersection of new mathematics and design, the multi-disciplinary approach taken doesn’t necessitate the readers to have a strong background in either of the fields.
Concepts are explained in a concise way, attempting to simplify them as much as possible without hindering their creative potential. It is to note that the book does not explicitly focus on mathematics, but rather on its application to design and architecture, within the purview of digital computation that has helped realize such concepts in the recent decades.
The six chapters of the book namely 1) Mathematical Surfaces and Seriality, 2) Chaos, Complexity, Emergence, 3) Packing and Tiling, 4) Optimization, 5) Topology, 6) Datascapes and Multidimensionality, each start with a broad introduction of the mathematics that underlies the design along with related concepts of science and technology. The series of projects and case studies that follow the introduction are elucidated in detail, with a focus on images, renders, concept illustrations, and diagrams, making the whole reading experience highly visual.
The text that goes with each project is very much comprehensive, whilst being mindful of the readers and their backgrounds in mathematics and design. The projects are arranged in the respective chapters, paying regard to their similarities to one another, along with the underlying mathematical principle that guided their conception; the sequence of the projects in the book develops new layers of understanding them collectively.
The language of the descriptions is worth commending. Although the book concerns itself with complex math and its applications, the text is in a rather non-technical tone; at places where new terms are introduced, they are adequately explained with footer notes and descriptions. With the level of proficiency that the authors possess, they have done a really great job in explaining concepts whilst using less professional jargon: this opens the readership beyond just scholars and avid readers, to all designers and architects in general.
The text does not present just facts, research, and development, but also poses questions, looking into recent approaches and domains. Plus, the book ventures into mathematical areas that are in the state of development and only defined partially; rather than concealing them, the authors have chosen to deliberate about them further, opening up new avenues in their applications within the architectural discourse.
The projects and case examples featured in the book range diversely – from well-known built projects, stark examples of unusual geometry, and experimental pavilions, to techniques of modeling and design conception. Examples include the Louvre Abu Dhabi by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, British Museum Great Court by Foster + Partners, The Water Cube in Beijing by PTW Architects, etc… Most of the examples offer a lot of takeaways in terms of construction methodology, fabrication techniques, design detailing, and digital computation.
Besides the projects, the book includes a dedicated glossary at the end, explaining keywords and concepts in a precise, easy-to-grasp manner. Each such definition is accompanied by descriptive illustrations, rendering further information on the aspect discussed.
Authors Jane and Mark Burry have done an exemplary job in putting together this interdisciplinary book, that weighs in mathematics, architecture, and their interrelationships. True, this may be one of the firsts to delineate the said fields cohesively, during a time when computation in design had only begun to emerge; but it presents a wealth of information on new techniques, concepts, and practices that are slowly revolutionizing the way we perceive and understand design.
And with mathematics as the cornerstone in the development of the book, it surely is a must-read for everyone interested in architecture, math, and their compelling collaborations.