Luminescent Limacon

by Mary Martialay on October 13, 2011

Odd as it sounds, this lamp (isn’t it cool!) takes its inspiration from a famous math equation, an elaborate linen collar, and a baroque painting technique.

The lamp was designed by Andrew Saunders, assistant professor in the Rensselaer School of Architecture, and a team of students from a design studio on “equation-based morphologies” – aka computation as a means of generating architectural geometric forms.

The design took one of three prizes in the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) 2011 Design + Fabrication Competition. As part of the prize, the design was manufactured in the Brooklyn studio of Flatcut_  design, and the completed lamp is on display this week at the annual ACADIA conference in Banff, Canada.

In the equation-based morphologies studio, Saunders introduces students to the art and science of incorporating the graphical form of trigonometric and calculus equations into architectural design. Equation based morphologies is one of Saunders research interests, and the design studio explores several famous equations, programing equations into design software, and manipulating equations to alter the geometric form they produce.

Among the equations they studied is the Pascal Limacon (pronounced with a soft “c”), an equation that represents the line formed by half the radius of a circle within that circle, rolling around a circle of equal diameter. Here’s an animation of the Pascal Limacon (taken from Wikipedia):

Saunders and the students – Caressa Siu, Florian Frank, Kate Lisi,
Travis Lydon, Luca Tesio, Andrea Uras, Olesia Kruglov, Stefano Campisi, and Alex Rohr – used the limacon to generate the geometrical form of the lamp. You can see the path of the limacon in each cone-shaped “leaf” of the lamp.

Another research interest – that of Flemish baroque painting – informed the gentle glow the lamp emits.

Saunders said the students studied chiaroscuro, a painting technique that creates drama through the manipulation of contrast between light and shadow. In particular, the students explored chiaroscuro in the portrayal of elaborate linen ruffled collars worn in Flemish baroque paintings.

“Linen was expensive and highly sought after. The Dutch ruff was kind of like the gold chain of its day – a symbol of wealth,” Saunders said. “We looked at how they use light and darkness, how the collar absorbs a lot of light and illuminates the face; that was the inspiration.”

Saunders’ current practice and research interest lie in computational geometry as it relates to emerging technology, fabrication, and performance. He is currently working on a book using parametric modeling as an analysis tool of seventeenth century Italian Baroque architecture.