In yesterday's post we looked at a research group experimenting with modern techniques and technologies to create architecturally innovative buildings. Yet, in the history of architecture and design, there have been bright creative minds who came up with intricate shapes and forms for extraordinarily modern buildings without using computational technologies, among them there is the late artist John Pickering.
Born in Wolverhampton in 1934 and trained in classical sculpture and life drawing at Bilston and Birmingham Schools of Art, Pickering first worked as a stone carver and in a wood pattern-making factory.
Around the '70s, fascinated with mathematics and geometry, he began experimenting with what is commonly considered an obscure branch of geometry, the "inversion principle" (MP.MQ=MR2), a projective transformation that, through its infinite generation of spatial changes and sensual curves, allowed Pickering to create sculptures of imaginative structures that wouldn't have looked out of place on the set of a sci-fi film.
Pickering would first fix vertical and horizontal planes and then, by triangulation and projection, he would calculate other key points in space. After completing these inversion points and their relative distances, he would make a rudimentary model of his structure; rotation of this model in space unlocked for Pickering other design possibilities.
In his works, inspired among the others by by Naum Gabo, texts such as Geometry and the Imagination by D. Hilbert and S. Cohn-Vossen, French Gothic cathedrals, satellites, spacecrafts and the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pickering conjugated a numerical sequence and cast its form in space.
Abstract forms and geometries transformed into physical volumes for powerful structures that, based on mathematical rigour, called at times to mind space probes or were vaguely reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci's machines.
Nowadays we mainly work with computer modelling software, but Pickering's models were the results of calculations, transformed into three-dimensional objects and made with paper, cardboard and plaster: this was a long process, but in Pickering's case it became even more time-consuming as the artist suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that didn't allow him to work fast.
Pickering worked in isolation for many years and, in 2002, he had his first exhibition at the Royal Society of British Sculptors in London. Several exhibitions followed and the publication of a book Mathematical Form: John Pickering and the Architecture of the Inversion Principle by the Architectural Association in 2006.
In 2002 he started a collaboration with architect George Legendre revolving around the possibility of producing a large-scale computer generated piece.
George Legendre's architectural practice - IJP Corporation, specialised in the natural intersections of space, mathematics and computation - employed the artist's original extensive calculations to recreate "Inversion of Cylinder with Sphere" and "Inversion of Intersecting Spheres" (the technicalities behind the latter can be discovered in this report Download JohnPickering).
Besides, in 2007, a collaboration started between Pickering and the Special Modelling Group at Fosters and Partners at Riverside Three, Battersea, London. Pickering chose various sections of his elaborate mathematics of inversion to be entered into the computer and thus, via a 3D printer at Fosters, twelve small models were generated. The models were then colour coded to illustrate the origin of the inversion.
Pickering liked to imagine Stockhausen's music being performed inside one of his structures made on a grand scale, a dream that may become true one day as one of the models by Legendre's architectural studio is awaiting funds for full-scale implementation, but, in the meantime, the John Pickering Foundation is preserving and storing his works.
Now, the more you look at them, the more you realise they could become the basis for jewellery pieces or for prints on garments, while his inversion studies could prove interesting for fashion designers who are into tailoring and pattern cutting. In a nutshell, surely the time has come to see Pickering's studies of the principle of inversions on spheres, cylinders, cones or cross-caps being applied to another creative field like fashion. Yes, you're right, it would be demanding, but at the same time it would be a terrifically engaging challenge.