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A basketmaker’s approach to structural morphology

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Algorithms are not only applicable to modern, state of the art technology. Existing traditional production techniques (weaving, knitting, lace making) contain built-in algorithms. How to design patterns of surface subdivision and issues of surface manipulation are problems shared by basket makers and computational designers. I hand build models in order to explore how a basket weaving can be seen to represent a topological map of its structure. It’s apparent that flat weavers follow approximately geodesic paths, and that long strands interwoven in a basket network all contribute equally to its overall strength. For the purposes of this brief (limited length of elements transportable) the continuous woven mesh must be chopped up into short lengths (discretized).

The construction of the nodes (nexorades) in reciprocal grid pattern means the friction between the elements helps keep them in place; thus retaining an important feature of weaving. A reciprocal grid allows large spans to be created from short elements arranged in a mutually supportive pattern. The lattice topology is built out of discrete elements of identical length, with individual elements acting equally within the network. CAD programs make it possible to design and clad doubly curved surfaces where every panel has slightly different dimensions. Allowing the members to be curved (I use flexible strips of green bamboo) and using a stretch fabric cladding (lycra) means identical edge lengths may be used.

This changes the emphasis from measurement of edge length to valence optimisation, exploring how topology arises out of mesh connectivity. This construction kit of identical length pieces of split bamboo functions as a form- finding tool with which to explore tessellations of the plane and curved surfaces, and space filling lattices. Once we leave behind the flat constraints of planar geometry, the possible variety of 3D tilings increases exponentially. 2D tessellation patterns (triangles, quads and hexagons) can be manipulated (deformed) into spherical or hyperbolic surface geometries by adding or subtracting from the number of elements at a node (or vertex). With small variations in connectivity – keeping numbers at vertices within the range 3 - 7, a wide vocabulary of form and shape is possible. These meshes can also handle arbitrary surface topologies.

The bamboo I use grows in our garden. I cut and split it while fresh, using hand tools. Uniformity of thickness or width is not achievable or attempted. Using these rough materials some shapes clearly work better than others. The rhombic reticulation used here creates fewer problems of acute curvature than an equilateral triangle mesh. The open tetrahedral module (primitive) was chosen as an example of a hyperbolic curvature, frequently present in natural structures. In constructing this form it becomes clear how the natural strength of structural form of sponge and bone derives from the way the negatively curved surface wraps around the voids.
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Keywords: basket topology; geodesic paths; hyperbolic surface; reciprocal frame; sponge structure; tessellation; triaxial weaving

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: [email protected]

Publication date: August 20, 2015

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