Inside Rensselaer
* Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture

Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture

School of Architecture students took part in a studio that explored how geometry operates in Italian Baroque architecture. Images pictured created by Andy Zheng and Christine Eromenok.

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Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture
The Italian Cultural Institute of New York recently hosted a weeklong exhibition of the work of 20 students from Rensselaer’s School of Architecture. Called “Reinterpreting the Baroque,” the show featured research conducted by the students while they studied abroad in Rome, Italy, during the fall 2007 semester.

While abroad, the students took a studio course that explored how geometry operates in Italian Baroque architecture — an opulent and dramatic style often characterized by irregular shapes and extravagant ornamentation, which became popular in the 17th century. Geometry and mathematics were fundamental to the architectural style, utilized in order to achieve the signature dynamic effects.

The first phase of the studio employed parametric modeling (changing a variable value in a mathematic expression to allow for a different but related expression) to reveal a unique insight into how integral geometry was to the conception of these Baroque works. In addition, it served to divulge how geometry integrated structure and composition as well as spatial and visual effects. The second phase of the studio utilized the generative qualities of these parametric analysis models to speculate on how these principles may inform and become relevant to contemporary design. The models were re-contextualized, under an entirely new set of criteria and parameters in order to generate new effects and performance.

Each student project positioned these parametric principles in very different ways. Because the models are capable of generating any number of variations of the original Baroque principles, the results varied from more literal destabilizations of scalar and compositional shifts to more abstracted interpretations of underlying trigonometric logic, according to Andrew Saunders, assistant professor of architecture, who led the studio in collaboration with School of Architecture Rome Program Coordinator Cinzia Abbate and industrial designer Jess Maertterer.

“Logical and mathematical operations are the language for structuring geometric relationships within computation, and are no doubt the key reason for architects’ piqued interest in mathematics today,” said Saunders. “The geometry of Baroque architecture gains a renewed relevance when understood parametrically, and merging the capabilities of programming within the digital modeling environment reveals the flexible and generative aspects of equation-based geometry of the Baroque.”

The director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York was invited to Rensselaer by Italian language professor Adriana Feoli Keseru to view an on-campus exhibit of the student work last spring, and was so impressed with the designs that he suggested they be exhibited in New York City. The exhibit will continue traveling throughout the year, and is currently headed to Philadelphia and back to Italy for display.
Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture Students Explore Geometry’s Role  in Architecture

The “Reinterpreting the Baroque” exhibition featured research conducted by Rensselaer students while they studied in Rome, Italy, last fall.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 19, November 14, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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