Building Beautiful

Building Beautiful

How fractals are used in architecture

Fractals are everywhere. We say that a lot, we know, but we mean it. When we aren’t searching for fractal patterns within vast sums of historical market data, we are quite outdoorsy people. We often find ourselves outside experiencing the natural world, be it cycling through the Swiss vistas or hiking up the local hills. Fractals are as prevalent in the natural world as we believe them to be in the market data that we mine, and we’ve spoke a lot about these natural examples before. If you want to remind yourself head over to our blog on the subject which you can find here.

But what is fascinating to us, is that architecture appears to fall for fractals too. And sometimes this is unknowing and accidental.

Robert Eglash was one of the first people to notice that, when viewed from the air, African villages display fractals. He travelled around the continent of Africa, finding examples of the form. One of which was the Ba-Ila settlement in Zambia. This village was circular in form and made from organic matter (mud, sticks, grasses etc). Each family had a smaller settlement around the circular perimeter, and these settlements were also circular. Within the smaller circular settlements, you guessed it, individual circular homes. And within the individual circular homes? Small replications of the larger village in model form. Why? Well, the tribe believe that the spirits of their ancestors need to live somewhere too.

Unbeknownst to the Ba-Ila, they had made an almost perfect example of a fractal – the same, infinitely repeating pattern no matter what level you look at…

Unlike the Ba-Ila, sometimes architecture can be very knowing in its used of mathematics and fractals. Dame Zaha Hadid, the late Iraqi-born British architect was a game changer when it came to the use of organic form in modern architecture. She, however, studied mathematics long before she studied architecture. As a result, fluidity, fractals and organic patterns became her trademark and consequently can often be found within her work.

Hadid was once quoted as saying – ‘There is a definite connection between the logic of math[s] and architecture – so much of the work we are doing in our office comes from my fascination with mathematical logic and geometry’.

What Hadid’s high-end architecture shows us is that even when bound by inorganic materials modern shapes can confirm an understanding of the natural world, and human desires to build using fractal and organic forms.

Whether you find the building you live in aesthetically beautiful can also be, in part, put down to whether the architect considered fractals when designing the form. Repeated studies have shown that we, as humans, enjoy examples of fractals more than images, objects and items that don’t include them. As we touched on in a recent blog, the reason why you might find a Jackson Pollock artwork visual appealing is because of the underlying use of fractals. The same could be said about why many of us find the Eiffel Tower aesthetically interesting.

So the next time you look up from your computer or smartphone (both of which will contain a degree of fractal mathematics within their design), take a look around you. Whether it is the design of the building you are sat in, or whether it is the natural world beyond, fractals are everywhere. But the real trick is to know what to do with them when you recognize their existence, and that is where our expertise comes in.

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