“A deformation, well it’s somewhere in between a distortion and a transformation”.
Quote by Douglas Hofstadter, Scientific American, Band 07, 1983, p. 12-18; „Parquet Deformations: Patterns that Shift Gradually in One Dimension.“
The aspect of metamorphosis or transformation is a most interesting feature and possibility of planar patterns, which we know through the work of M. C. Escher. Inspired by the geometrical tessellations of the Alhambra, Escher transformed figurative tiles (animals/humans) instead of abstract forms.
In the 1960’s, architect William S. Huff, inspired by Escher, did the opposite. He proposed a still widely unknown tessellation technique he called parquet deformations. Being an exercise for students of architecture, Huffs design assignment aimed to improve students’ reasoning of spatiotemporal variation by utilizing sequential shapeshifting of tessellations, where one form subtly and continuously transforms into another form. A change of one element automatically has influences on its adjacent elements. The border or boundary of a form is the main instigator of this interaction. The stiffness or rigidity of the grid dissolves and sometimes completely disappears in favor of the interaction and the intermingling of the elements.
The rhythm of change between the forms directs the shapeshifting tempo and its metamorphosis as a sequence. The spatiotemporal element was important to Huff, because of its analogy to music. The compositions are intended to be viewed temporally, as a sort of visual music. Viewing them is akin to the manner in which film is seen, poetry read, and music heard. The deformations evolve in hardly visible, subtle steps, but they can never be immediately overviewed or understood. The eye has to wander through every step, viewing it section for section to fully grasp what is happening. The potential for change and inherent structural affinities between forms allows a deeper understanding of the fundamental relationships between different geometrical basic forms. The parquet deformation exercise was given to students of architecture for more then thirty years – between 1960 and 1990 at two universities in the U.S – and they were drawn by hand. Huff saw them as an exercise in parametric design, but without the use of a computer. The main characteristic of Huffs parquet deformations was that they had to be based on the triangular, quadratic or hexagonal grid, thus leaving many variations open:
Parquet deformations study by Werner Van Hoeydonck, 2016.
I was given the chance to conduct a design assignment about “parquet deformations” at the Institute for 3D-Design and Modell Making at TU Vienna (WS 2017-18). Together with 700 architectural students, Huffs concept was transformed from the planar to the spatial level. Interdisciplinary lectures (abstract art /geometry / crystallography) and visual inspiration (op-art / Escher / abstract and geometric art) accompanied the assignment. The outcome was an amazing variety of strategies resulting in highly differentiated space-filling structures with subtly deformed shapes of an astonishing sculptural quality. Here are some of the results: