Inspirations: A Short Film Celebrating the Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher

Almost two years ago, Span­ish film­mak­er Cristóbal Vila shot an exquis­ite lit­tle film, Nature by Num­bers, which cap­tured the ways in which math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts (Fibonac­ci Sequence, Gold­en Num­ber, etc.) reveal them­selves in nature. And the short then clocked a good 2.1 mil­lion views on YouTube alone.

This week, Vila returns with a new film called Inspi­ra­tions. In this case, the inspi­ra­tion is M.C. Esch­er (1898–1972), the Dutch artist who explored a wide range of math­e­mat­i­cal ideas with his wood­cuts, lith­o­graphs, and mez­zot­ints. Although Esch­er had no for­mal train­ing in math­e­mat­ics beyond sec­ondary school, many math­e­mati­cians count­ed them­selves as admir­ers of his work. (Vis­it this online gallery to get bet­ter acquaint­ed with Escher’s art, and be sure to click on the thumb­nails to enlarge the images). As Vila explains, Inspi­ra­tions tries to imag­ine Escher’s work­place, “what things would sur­round an artist like him, so deeply inter­est­ed in sci­ence in gen­er­al and math­e­mat­ics in par­tic­u­lar.” It’s a three min­utes of unbri­dled imag­i­na­tion.

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Comments (5)
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  • jael says:

    Awe­some.… bril­liant, a remark­able visu­al feast. Thank you

  • “Inspi­ra­tions” is superb. Your ani­ma­tion is spell­bind­ing. The lizard snort­ing made me laugh with delight.

    Won­der­ful choice of music — it fits my image of Esch­er and his work.

    Thank you SO MUCH for such a lov­ing trib­ute.

    Some­where Mau­rits is smil­ing I’m sure.

  • Marc G.C. says:

    With­out know­ing about Esch­er this video is real­ly great, know­ing about him makes the video even bet­ter.

    I real­ly enjoy the croc­o­dile part!

  • Bill Trenfel says:

    This is sim­ply mar­velous. The qual­i­ty and imma­gana­tion is top notch! I have nev­er seen any­thing quite like this.

  • David says:

    I received a Mas­ter of Land­scape Archi­tec­ture degere from UT Austin. Ini­tial­ly inspired by sus­tain­able devel­op­ment pol­i­cy in South­east Asia, I pur­sued the study of law, receiv­ing a J.D. from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mia­mi School of Law and then an LL.M. from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hong Kong in inter­na­tion­al invest­ment and development.After around six years of prac­tice in the Unit­ed States and Japan, I found that the prac­tice of land­scape archi­tec­ture played a crit­i­cal advo­ca­cy role in the vision, design, and stew­ard­ship of both the devel­oped and unde­vel­oped land­scape, “nat­ur­al” and urban, and that my train­ing as an advo­cate could play an impor­tant role in real­iz­ing that.Upon grad­u­a­tion from UTSOA, I moved to San Fran­cis­co to work with Mar­ta Fry Land­scape Asso­ciates (MFLA ). San Fran­cis­co was a log­i­cal choice to begin a career in land­scape architecture—not only did I serve an intern­ship with Peter Walk­er and Part­ners in Berke­ley, but it was here that the prac­tice had some of its great­est pro­po­nents from with­in the Unit­ed States.My inter­ests in land­scape archi­tec­ture were close­ly tied to the broad port­fo­lio of MFLA’s work, which chal­lenges and push­es the edges of what the prac­tice is. MFLA is a land­scape archi­tec­ture stu­dio whose prac­tice encom­pass­es the larg­er phys­i­cal scales of urban design and mas­ter plan­ning, to com­mer­cial, hos­pi­tal­i­ty, park, and res­i­den­tial design to tem­po­ral urban, retail rebrand­ing, and prod­uct design.My inter­est in sus­tain­able devel­op­ment pol­i­cy, while ini­tial­ly root­ed in the devel­op­ing world, remains strong, although I find that its appli­ca­tion in urban envi­ron­ments in the Unit­ed States is equal­ly crit­i­cal to issues fac­ing the increas­ing­ly urban char­ac­ter of the coun­try and the cri­sis of iden­ti­ty that plagues many com­mu­ni­ties. The chal­lenges are similar.So many peo­ple at UTSOA had influ­ences on how I approach my work now. Undoubt­ed­ly, Simon Atkin­son instilled, if not rein­forced a bold­ness in our approach not only to scope but also to the imper­a­tive vision­ary roles land­scape archi­tec­ture does and must play in our cul­ture and soci­ety. Hope Has­brouck ensured that we ask the right ques­tions and that we ask and answer them well. This was a crit­i­cal point of con­nec­tion for me in my advo­ca­cy train­ing as an attor­ney, and trans­lat­ing that to the lan­guage of design and its choice mak­ing con­tin­ues to be invalu­able. Fritz Stein­er imbued me with the under­stand­ing of our pro­fes­sion as a true thread­ed community.I see that each of us plays the role of men­tor to oth­ers and that our deci­sions have cas­cad­ing effects—they impact the course of events and poten­tial­ly valu­able lega­cies in soci­ety and culture.Differing in scale, projects I have been a part of have pre­sent­ed dif­fer­ent kinds of chal­lenges. Our work in craft­ing the Trans­bay Rede­vel­op­ment Project Area Streetscape and Open Space Con­cept Plan in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the San Fran­cis­co Rede­vel­ope­ment Agency and Plan­ning Depart­ment is a good exam­ple. The col­lapse of much of the raised free­way net­work in down­town San Fran­cis­co after the Loma Pri­eta earth­quake in 1989 pro­vid­ed the city with an unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty to rede­vel­op approx­i­mate­ly 40 acres south of Mar­ket Street. The goal of the Con­cept Plan was to guide crit­i­cal pub­lic realm improve­ments to what is to be the city’s dens­est emerg­ing urban neigh­bor­hood. Once real­ized, the streetscape and open space improve­ments will ful­fill a crit­i­cal func­tion of knit­ting togeth­er a mix of archi­tec­tur­al project types and dom­i­nant trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture ele­ments that occurs across the twen­ty block area, while mak­ing the streets more invit­ing for walk­ing and bik­ing. To accom­plish this, we aimed to devel­op the most advanced streetscape con­cepts that meld­ed sophis­ti­cat­ed design with sus­tain­able strate­gies. Ulti­mate­ly, the intent was to cre­ate a unique iden­ti­ty for the Trans­bay neigh­bor­hood vis­i­ble in the design of its pub­lic side­walks, parks, and alleyways.Another inter­est­ing project is the rede­vel­op­ment of the decom­mis­sioned mil­i­tary post at Fort Bak­er, which sits at the foot of the Gold­en Gate Bridge. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Gold­en Gate Nation­al Parks Con­ser­van­cy, we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in restor­ing this urban nation­al park, specif­i­cal­ly its beach­head, sur­round­ing habi­tat, and recre­ation­al facil­i­ties. This project will serve to com­ple­ment the new Lodge and Insti­tute at the Gold­en Gate, whose mis­sion will be to advance the health, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, and pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment. Our intent in this project is to mar­ry habi­tat restora­tion with the cul­tur­al lega­cy of Fort Bak­er as a mil­i­tary out­post and the need to serve an active Coast Guard pres­ence on-site. Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to me has been the role of the land­scape archi­tect in the incre­men­tal fund­ing process that these rede­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives are depen­dent on. We play an impor­tant role in craft­ing strat­e­gy and vision in gar­ner­ing both pub­lic and pri­vate sup­port for these long term endeavors.At a very dif­fer­ent scale, our part­ner­ship with Old Navy in its rebrand­ing effort has been excit­ing. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with HMKM, an archi­tec­tur­al prac­tice based in Lon­don, we were asked to craft a strat­e­gy to intro­duce an inte­ri­or “gar­den” into the new con­cept for Old Navy stores. Our approach was to devel­op syn­er­gis­tic sce­nar­ios where the gar­den took on dif­fer­ent forms depend­ing on qual­i­ties of light, expo­sure to exte­ri­or cli­mate, and spa­tial vari­a­tion, while retain­ing a coher­ent set of attrib­ut­es that would rein­force brand iden­ti­ty. Work­ing toward a nation­al roll-out of these con­cepts on over 1,400 loca­tions has required inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, and the design process has mor­phed back and forth mul­ti­ple times and con­tin­ues to change as the con­cepts are test­ed in pro­to­type loca­tions across the coun­try. Inter­est­ing­ly, I am often asked what retail rebrand­ing has to do with the prac­tice of land­scape archi­tec­ture. I explain that all sites pos­sess a lay­ered nar­ra­tive that forms the basis of iden­ti­ty, whether or not it is man­i­fest­ed in leg­i­ble forms, process­es, or phe­nom­e­na. Rebrand­ing is a rechar­ac­ter­i­za­tion, reori­en­ta­tion, or reread­ing of this nar­ra­tive that speaks to its social and tem­po­ral context.The biggest chal­lenge for land­scape archi­tec­ture today is the same as it was 100 years ago—resource man­age­ment. Today’s chal­lenge, design­ing with­in the con­text of scarce oil and water resources, is more acute than it was in the past, how­ev­er, and requires more than cop­ing strate­gies or “green” design where devel­op­ment is inap­pro­pri­ate. Today we must all be advo­cates for craft­ing intel­li­gent pol­i­cy and devel­op­ment prin­ci­ples. ASLA has made great strides through its Advo­ca­cy Net­work. Sup­port of that and sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives is essen­tial if we are to cre­ate a viable map for the future.

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