“On growth and form” by D’Arcy W. Thompson

For the advanced typography course at the Rhode Island School of Design, the task was to choose some historical anniversary (in 2017) of an event or publication of some work. Next, we had to create three dimensional object celebrating the anniversary.

I chose the 100th anniversary of the publication of “On growth and form” by D’Arcy W. Thompson – a seminal work combining mathematics, physics and the form of living organisms. And it is written in such a wonderful, poetic language (see some excerpts below). Here is a brief info about the book.

The piece is based on a logarithmic spiral, very common in biological organisms (e.g., Nautilus shell, birds of prey approach path), and each triangle scales logarithmically. Click on the images below to enlarge them. The piece I’ve created is a prototype and I want to turn it into a finished work, perhaps done in wood or semi-opaque plastic with neatly laser-cut text.

The front (white) largest triangle has a wonderful quote from the book:

“We begin by describing the shape of an object in the simple words of common speech: we end by defining it in the precise language of mathematics… The mathematical definition of a ‘form’ has a quality of precision which was quite lacking in our earlier stage of mere description; it is expressed in a few words or in still briefer symbols, and these words or symbols are so pregnant with meanings that thought itself is economized; we are brought by means of it in touch with Galileo’s aphorism (…) that ‘the Book of Nature’ is written in characters of Geometry.”

And the back side (black) reveals that the path of an insect approaching the source of light is also based on a logarithmic spiral. The text says (excerpt from the book): “Owing to the structure of their compound eyes, these insects do not look straight ahead but make for a light, which they see abeam, at a certain angle. As they continually adjust their path to this constant angle, a spiral pathway brings them to their destination at last.” In order to read the sentence, you need to rotate the object in your hands, ‘following’ the flight path of an insect.