You are on page 1of 8


Foundation for Nature-Based Architecture

July 2003
page 1 | 2

Historically, simple geometric forms have been the basis for envisioning
structure in architecture. It follows that a study of advanced geometric forms
may provide the basis for envisioning advanced structures in architecture.

There is no historical record of new geometric structural systems being

revealed since the discovery of the circle, square and triangle. The geometric
structural system of the fourth archetypal form, the spiral–in its 3-D form,
the the helix–has been uncovered and developed over the past 25 years by
the author.

Helical Geometry is the study of geometry within the tetrahedron, the most
fundamental of the 5 Platonic Solids of Solid Geometry.

Fig. 1 The Fig. 2 The Helical

tetrahedron, the Field Geometry
most basic of within the
the 5 Platonic tetrahedron

Helical Geometry is the geometry of the straight twisted rod (Fig. 3), in the
same way that Plane and Solid Geometry are the geometries of the straight
rod. (Fig. 4) These are two distinctly different representations of distance,
and so, two distinctly different approaches to understanding the geometric
properties of space.

The geometric forms of

Fig. 3 The straight twisted rod of Helical Geometry Plane and Solid Geometry
continue to be the basis for
the way we design and
build, as well as for the way
Fig. 4 The straight rod of Plane and Solid Geometry we think about the laws of
nature and how nature
builds. The new geometrical system of Helical Geometry, by redefining
distance in space as having a simultaneous measurable degrees-of-rotation,
or twist, has profound implications for the foundations of our existing

Literally, Helical Geometry adds new meaning to our ideas of what is

"rational." It is not too bold to suggest that Helical Geometry offers a
foundation for advancement in all areas of knowledge as it changes the way
we think about that most fundamental concept, distance in space. This article
discusses Helical Geometry, its correspondence with Nature, and its
incorporation of existing geometric knowledge.

Geometry’s Correspondence with Nature

Geometry is an attempt to understand the source of the symmetry seen in

nature, and the structural order of that symmetry in space. The search for
this understanding can be approached in two ways, numerically (i.e.
mathematically), or structurally. Modern science uses the mathematical
modeling approach, assuming that numerical models or formulas will reveal
the source of symmetry in space. The ancient Greek geometers used the
structural modeling approach, assuming that structural models would reveal
the source of symmetry in nature, and, express a numerical model, the
formula of a mathematical theorem.

The geometer Pythagoras was credited with first showing a correspondence

between a geometric structure and the source of symmetry in space around
350 BC. He demonstrated that two of the properties of the source of
symmetry in Nature are the right angle and four-fold rotation. The archetypal
geometric form he used was the triangle containing a ninety-degree angle, a
plane right-angled triangle. He showed how this family of geometric
structures reveals a correspondence with nature’s symmetry in 2-dimensional

Pythagoras rotated this unique type of triangle (with

its one right angle) in a fourfold pattern, its longest
side facing outward, and so generated the
symmetrical boundaries of a perfect square. Then, by
a redistribution of the triangles making up the
symmetrical pattern, he showed that the remaining
two sides of the right-angled triangle structure also
Fig. 5 The plane right- generated the symmetry of two perfect squares. And,
angled triangle's proof that these two squares of symmetry are contained
of correspondence with within and equivalent to the symmetry of the square
the 4-fold, 2-
of the longest side. (Fig. 5) This is true of all triangles
dimensional symmetry
having a right-angle, and not true of any other
in Nature.
archetypal geometric structure. (Ref: "The Ascent of
Man", Jacob Bronowski)
This unique type of 2-dimensional geometrical structure having a right-angle
visibly demonstrated its correspondence with nature’s symmetry in 2-
dimensional space. For this reason, the single unique property of this
geometrical structure, its right-angle, and, the fourfold rotation required to
generate the symmetry of the square, are considered to be properties of the
source of the symmetry in 2-dimensional space.

All plane right-angled triangles express a numerical model, the formula of the
mathematical theorem which states: The square of the longest side of the
plane right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two
shortest sides, which is, c2=a2+b2, the formula of the Pythagorean Theorem,
the most important theorem in all mathematics. The plane right-angled
triangle expresses the Table of Natural Trigonometric Functions of Sines and
Cosines, without which there would be neither Newtons’s laws of nature, nor
Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. The validity of science’s natural laws and
universal theories, dependent as they are on the plane right-angled triangle,
speaks for the correspondence of this geometrical structure with Nature’s
symmetry, and the source of symmetry in 2-dimensional space. If there were
no such correspondence, then its numerical expressions of the plane right-
angled triangle would not have led to subsequent mathematical descriptions
corresponding with the laws of nature and universe.

Helical Geometry uses a structural modeling approach similar to that of the

ancient Greek geometer’s approach to understand the source of symmetry in
nature. It demonstrates its correspondence with the 3-dimensional symmetry
in space by the fourfold rotation of a unique geometrical structure, the helical
building panel, that mimics the 3-dimensional symmetry of the natural form
of a molecule-thin liquid membrane, the soap-film (Fig. 6). In addition,
Helical Geometry’s unique geometrical structure shows a direct
correspondence with the geometry of the plane right-angled triangle, and
expresses the Table of Natural Trigonometric Functions of Sines and Cosines,
but in 3-dimensional space as opposed to 2-dimensional space.

Fig. 6 The helical building panel's proof (#1 of 2) of

correspondence with the 4-fold, 3-dimensional symmetry in

How Helical Geometry Demonstrates Correspondence with the

Source of Symmetry in Nature.
A nature-based way of designing and building begins with a nature-based
geometry. Helical Geometry is structural biomimicry, that is, its forms
structurally mimic the natural form of a soap film.

The helical form is universal, existing in every form of matter. From the
microcosmic, atomic structure of crystal growth to the molecular structure of
DNA to the macrocosmic spiral form of galaxies, all structure in matter
mimics the source of symmetry in Nature. Uncovering the 3-dimensional
geometry of the helical form in Nature, then, is to uncover the 3-dimensional
source of the symmetry in nature.

Soap films exemplify an important mathematical idea called a minimal

surface. Soap films form minimal surfaces because the energy of surface
tension in a soap film is proportional to its area. Nature always minimizes
energy expenditure, so soap films minimize area. For example, the natural
form of a soap film represents the surface of smallest area within a
framework of Plexiglas tubes.

Fig. 7 The structural properties of the helical soap-film

Structurally mimicking the properties of a soap film

stretched within a framework of Plexiglas tubes
demonstrates the natural basis for Helical Geometry.
When a soap film is suspended within a framework of
Plexiglas tubes that are strung like long cylindrical
Fig. 8 The helical edge beads we are able to observe its structural properties
(Fig. 7).
of the soap-film
At first glance the warped surfaces of the soap film
appear to resemble the familiar form called the hyperbolic-paraboloid, a
saddle-shaped surface generated by straight rods. But a significant difference
is seen under closer observation. The outer edges of the soap film, where it
adheres to the Plexiglas tubes, have a helical form. The minimal surface of
the soap film's edges twists around the Plexiglas tubes (Fig. 8). This is the
structural property of the natural surface form of a soap film that
distinguishes it from the hyperbolic-paraboloid, whose outer edges are
straight rods.
Fig. 9 Structurally mimicking the helical edges of the soap-film.

We can mimic this helically edged property of the natural

soap film form using a framework of flat, twistable rods
or struts. (Fig. 9) We can then mimic the surface form of
the soap film by extending flat, twistable struts between
the opposing helical edges of the framework. (Fig. 10).
[Note the four kite-shaped forms that generate the full
Fig. 10
Structurally helical framework by their 4-fold rotation]. The resulting
mimicking the system of "soap film rigid structures" may now be seen
soap film as segments or units of linear helical structures, rather
than as independent saddle-shapes. Linear helical
structures are generated by matching the helical edges of
the helical units. (Figs. 11, 12) These helical units are the
basic elements of Helical Geometry, a structure system
that mimics natural helical form.

It was the fourfold rotation in 2-dimensional space of the

plane right-angled triangle that generated the natural 2-
Fig. 11 dimensional symmetry of the plane square in
Matching the Pythagoras's demonstration of the correspondence of the
helical edges of 6 plane right-angled triangle with the source of symmetry
Helical Geometry in Nature. (Fig. 5). Likewise, it is the fourfold rotation in
Elements 3-dimensional space of the kite-like helical building panel
(Cos 45°) (Fig. 6), that generates the 3-dimensional helical
geometric structure that mimics the symmetry of the
soap film. (Fig. 7) This demonstrates the correspondence
of the elements of Helical Geometry with the source of
symmetry in Nature. The kite-like helical building panels
are like 3-dimensional right-angled triangles.

How Helical Geometry Incorporates Previous

Fig. 12
Matching the
helical edges of
32 Helical "Does it incorporate previous knowledge?" "Does it
Geometry demonstrate undeniable correspondences with existing
Elements knowledge?" These are the crucial questions, the
(COs 45°) prerequisites, for a valid claim by any new knowledge to
an advance in the foundations of existing knowledge. Helical Geometry
satisfies these two questions by demonstrating the incorporation of the
knowledge represented by the plane right-angled triangle, and by its ability
to generate the archetypal forms of Plane and Solid Geometry.

Incorporating the Knowledge of the Plane Right-Angled Triangle

You can point at the shortest edge of any helical building panel and say, "The
length of this shortest edge is the cosine of the degrees of rotation or twist
along its length (Fig. 13)." Likewise, you can point at the horizontal leg of a
plane right-angled triangle and say, "The length of this shortest edge is the
cosine of the degrees of rotation relative to the hypotenuse (Fig. 14)." Helical
Geometry incorporates the knowledge of the plane right-angled triangle,
transforming it into a 3-dimensional concept.

Helical Geometry’s multiple kite-like helical building

panels each represents a cosine ranging from 0 to 90
degrees. The kite-like helical panel represents the
Fig. 13 Fig. 14
number of degrees of rotation by the amount of twist
Cosine distance
over the length of its shortest edge. And, its length is the
The 45° twisting cosine of the number of degrees of rotation or twist along
Cosine distance of the shortest edge. So, for example, the helical building
the helical panel in Figures 13 and 14, has 45 degrees of twist or
building panel rotation along the shortest edge. And, the length of this
(left), and the shortest edge is the cosine of 45°, or, .7071 in relation to
Plane Right- the constant length of the longest edge, which is 1.
angled Triangle
This trigonometric relationship is true for all the kite-like
helical building panels: As the length of the shortest edge
decreases the amount of twist, or degrees of rotation,
increases, and, the numerical relationship is the same as
Hypotenuse that of the Table of Natural Trigonometric Functions for
(blue) Sines and Cosines. This table of functions is derived from
Fig. 15 the 2-D system of structures, the plane right-angled
Helical Right triangle. We can liken the hypotenuse of the plane right-
Triangle (left), angled triangle to the longest edge of the helical building
Plane Right panel (Fig. 15), and the horizontal leg of the plane right-
Triangle (right)
angled triangle to the shortest edge of the helical
building panel (Figs. 13, 14). The difference is that the
plane right-angled triangle expresses its degrees of
rotation as a plane angle of rotation between 0 and 90
degrees, a 2-dimensional representation, while the
helical building panel expresses its degrees of rotation
over a distance, a helical angle of rotation or twist, a 3-
Fig. 16 dimensional representation. (Fig. 16) This is why the
The angle of helical building panels can be called "3-dimensional right-
plane rotation vs.
the angle of
helical rotation.
angled triangles", or "Helical Right Triangles", just as the 2-dimensional right-
angled triangles are called Plane Right Triangles.

Incorporating the Archetypal Structures

of Plane and Solid Geometry

Imagine that we had never seen the geometric structures of Plane and Solid
Geometry, never seen a circle, square, triangle, sphere, cube or pyramid. If
all we knew was Helical Geometry it would reveal to us all of these archetypal
geometric structures. And this stands to reason. If Helical Geometry
represents an advance in geometrical knowledge, then, it should be able to
generate in its geometrical configurations the geometrical structures of Plane
and Solid Geometry, the geometries that historically preceded Helical

Helical Geometry is a 'field geometry', meaning its helical building panels

with lattice surfaces represent a geometrical system of fields having helical,
saddle-shaped form. Using the building panels of Helical Geometry we can
make models in which the panels intersect one another, matching their
helical edges at the intersections. Matching the helical edges means that we
are following the "logical rules of connection" inherent in the Helical
Geometry panels or fields. A logical connection is one in which the degrees of
twist and direction (left or right), and, the corresponding length at the
connection of two intersecting or edge-connecting helical panels, match or

Following these logical rules of connection a configuration can be constructed

in which 96 kite-like panels intersect to generate the outward form of two
interpenetrating tetrahedrons. Within this configuration of logically
intersecting helical fields of form can be seen an empty space. It is a space
that is defined by the inner surfaces of the helical fields of form. Looking
closer we can see that within the configuration of intersecting fields of helical
form has been generated the plane geometry of the circle, square and
triangle; and the solid geometry of the sphere, cube and pyramid (Figs. 17,
18). So, while Helical Geometry cannot be generated from Plane or Solid
Geometry, Plane and Solid Geometry can be generated from Helical
Geometry. Helical Geometry, then, can be said to be "prior to" Plane and
Solid Geometry, which is to say it incorporates existing geometrical
knowledge and represents an advance in fundamental geometrical
Figs. 17, 18
Within Helical Geometry's intersecting tetrahedrons (on
right in photos), is generated the archetypal forms of
Plane and Solid Geometry (on left)

Helical Geometry represents a foundation for advancement in architectural

knowledge. It promises the foundation for visionary applications of advanced
architectural design that is organic, ecological and evolutionary. It is a
nature-based geometry that embodies a synthesis of form and function. Its
varied structural forms promise sensitivity to the environment, simplicity in
application and economics, and natural elegance.

Helical Geometry is learned by modeling, by creating constructions using

multitudes of one or more types of the kite-like building panels of Helical
Geometry. How Helical Geometry has been used to date in modeling and
constructions, and instructions on how to fabricate helical building panels for
modeling and construction will be subjects of future writings.