Fractals in Architecture and Fashion | Antoni Gaudi | Peter Pilotto

Sitting in Barcelona airport right now, waiting for my flight back to London after an afternoon visit to Sagrada Familia, my mind can’t stop dwelling on the ingenuity and intricacy of Antoni Gaudi’s work.
For those who are not familiar with the history of western architecture, Gaudi was a Catalan architect during the late 19th and early 20thcenturies.  His highly distinct style was a combination of inspiration taken from oriental arts, e.g. Persian, Indian, Japanese; and his fascination with mechanical structural system in organic life forms, such as tree trunks, human skeletons etc.  The Sagrada Familia was the pinnacle of his life’s work and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
What was so fascinating to me can be summed up in the picture below… which shows what one sees when one looks up to the ceiling of the cathedral…  Beautiful, mesmerisingly powerful to say the least!!
Ceiling of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia: Hyperboloid vaults and 3 dimensional fractal structure create an intricate play of lights
Gaudi’s life long study of organic structural system from nature has translated into his use of ruled geometrical forms such as helicoid, cone, hyperboloid and hyperbolic paraboloid to form the vaults, and the entire structural system of the Cathedral, like tree trunks with branches growing towards the sky.  He often said that
“There is no better structure than the trunk of a tree or a human skeleton… Paraboloids, hyperboloids and helicoids, constantly varying the incidence of the light, are rich in matrices themselves, which make ornamentation and even modelling unnecessary.” 
These intricate 3 dimensional patterns, therefore, are not ornamental as such.  In fact, they are purely there for functional reason; the resulting aesthetic was purely a by-product of precisely calculated geometry. 
  
I was in awe with the sheer scale, beauty of the whole structure, the kaleidoscopic play of light and the resulting modulation of space that divides itself into smaller, independent and self-supporting modules, creating a structure that perfectly supports traction forces without the need of buttresses, which were essential element in Gothic Architecture at the time.  He not only discovered what we now called fractal structure without knowing, but he also achieved the very definition of modern architecture, that is “form follows function”.  Yet, instead of the clean and angular lines of the Bauhaus movement, which dominates the beginning of 20th century, within this chaotic beauty lies a rational, efficient and perfectly logical structural system.
Natural Fractals
Looking at kaleidoscopic, self-repeating fractal patterns and symmetrical structures reminds me of one particular fashion duo, Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, whose work I am a huge fan of.  This has nothing to do with architecture, one may add, but I can’t help but notice a recurring concept of fractal geometry in Pilotto’s pattern design, which although looks ultra futuristic and created by state-of-the-art cutting edge technology, I would not be surprised if one of the inspirations from creating the algorithm for these patterns stem from mother nature as well. 
 
Peter Pilotto AW 13 : Strong symmetrical cuts and bold symmetrical fractal pattern to sculpt the feminine form.
Their Autumn/Winter 2013 collection showcases a perfect balance of bold, mesmerising fractal pattern digital prints, in combination with symmetrical cuts and folds that sculpt the body in a very fresh and flattering way.  The fabric print itsself may serve primarily as ornaments, but its symmetry, complements the cuts; and its repeating gradients in the pattern function as visual camouflage to further enhance the feminine form as well.
I know that this is rather late in the day to be writing about their AW13 collection, especially when they will already be showcasing their Spring/Summer 2014 collection during London Fashion Week tomorrow, but let’s treat it as a reminder of what to expect tomorrow at the show, which I hope will be as compelling and powerful as their previous one…

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