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Updated: March 30, 2013 18:24 IST

Discovering aesthetic space

Meenakshi Thirukode
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Photo: Randy Duchaine
Photo: Randy Duchaine

Dr. Haresh Lalvani has worked for over 30 years to create a genetic code for shapes and forms that is expected to bring about a huge change in the field of design and architecture.Meenakshi Thirukode

“There is nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics.”

Paul Lockhart’s A Mathematician’s Lament

There couldn’t be a simultaneously precise and lyrical quote to lend perspective to the work of Dr. Haresh Lalvani. Dr. Lalvani who is described as a visual mathematician, architect, inventor, morphologist, sculptor and professor, has been developing what he calls “a morphological genome that encodes potentially all form for design application.” What this means is that Dr. Lalvani, over the last 30 years, has worked to create a genetic code for shapes/forms. He arrived at this idea through the relationship between numbers and shapes. Numbers generate shapes. Taking that basic correlation, Dr. Lalvani created a shape code based on a sequence of numbers that could generate a broad range of forms. These forms were similar and yet different — like a snowflake. One body of work that illustrates this is his series called “Morphing Platters”. In this series Lalvani employs what he calls a Lautomaton to create a broad set of platters, where within its perimeter, which remains constant, various patterns are generated through changes in the relationship between lines, curves and angles, much like in nature and genetic theory. Lautomaton is the process of generating patterns where just a single variable, for instance the length, keeps changing. Patterns both discernible and chaotic take shape. The result is that each platter is unique.

The implications of the morphological genome and the resulting physical pieces function on an aesthetic level as art, while pushing our understanding of these objects in its broader implications on the future of sustainable mass digital production and customisation. This is a huge deal when we think about how it will change the way we think of building materials and architecture. It means that on a mass scale, people will have access to a process where they can choose a combination of numbers based on whatever they fancy, and actually create something that is unique — be it platters or the façade of their home. Dr. Lalvani’s innovations are essentially an intersection of Mathematics, Science, Technology and Art. These are patented inventions that resulted in both, a functional and an aesthetic object, fabricated in laser cut steel. The designs have been created based on a collaboration with Milgo-Bufkin, the art-metal fabricators who have worked with artists such as Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt and Frank Stella to name a few.

Each piece in my mind also resonates at a philosophical and spiritual level to the individual whose existential conundrums might possibly be understood through a new lens. Dr. Lalvani delves into a lot of existing philosophies and scientific conclusions on the oneness of life. That all things, however different, originate from a singular oneness. Be it the Eve of Africa (“Out of Africa” or the academically termed “Recent Single Origin Hypothesis” which suggests that all humans come from one African woman) or the example used to illustrate Brahman (the undefined, immaterial phenomenon from which the mortal being originates and seeks to be unified with, through the liberation of her soul or atman). A striking example illustrating the concept of “difference in oneness” in relation to Brahman, is its likening to the light of an oil lamp covered with a clay pot full of holes of varying sizes. The light that comes out of each hole travels a different distance and has a different intensity, depending on the size of each hole. And yet they are all the same, having emanated from this one source. It would seem that science and faith are finding ways to explain the human condition and our relationship to the environment and the cosmos. It certainly was the predominant interpretation I took away from the work of Dr. Lalvani — in particular his current installation in NYC, “SEED54”.

“SEED54” comes from further discoveries made within mathematical systems that have been applied in creating new ways of material production; steel to be specific. Dr. Lalvani discovered a system called “Hypersurfaces”, which is described as a “new mathematical class of surface subdivisions that combines aperiodic (non-repetitive) tiling patterns with any curved surface.”

SEED54 is part of this series of work where curved steel with perforations on its surface, deduced by the mathematical system, stands in the form of a seed — floating lightly above the planter on the side street in New York.

Dr. Lalvani’s work invigorates an interesting space, which effortlessly ties in the aesthetic and philosophical underpinning of his discoveries and inventions, with that of literal functionality. “SEED54”, in its perforations, through which you see a distorted cityscape, represents a man-made edifice that follows the rules set within nature instead of hampering it. Its art and architecture that reflects, rather than imposes, on our natural resources both in its idealistic aspirations as well as in its literal production.

New Media theorist and philosopher Boris Groys has elaborated upon the idea of art existing within the space of the public in a manner that negates its tag of “art” in its most elitist, exclusionary context. That art must be something that already exists within the world without it having to be defined within certain parameters by a few. With the invention of the morphological genome and the resulting set of works such as “Morphing Platters” and “Hypersurfaces”, Dr. Lalvani illustrates the way in which material can be manipulated to create mass customisation. “Art” can be created by anyone in an open source way that reflects the idea of uniqueness in difference. That is quite epic.

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