Going Deeper into Surface: A Network of Pieces

Justin Diles

This essay is part of Possible Mediums by Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure and Kyle Miller, published by Actar Publishers.

Rock. Nail. Time. A puzzle can be as simple as three seemingly unrelated words placed side by side. Their adjacency signals a veiled connection, capturing our attention. Bed is here the linking word—riddle solved.[1] Puzzles throw a net of mystery over everyday stuff. Consider the corny images typically printed on jigsaws—Kittens! Lighthouses! Santa!—that often disguise a sophisticated network of pieces. To get to the heart of the challenge, many jigsaw aficionados prefer to work on blank puzzles or puzzles with pieces so interchangeable that their assembly points toward thousands of incorrect solutions.[2]

Like puzzles, the expansive surfaces of architecture are routinely covered with interlocking elements that combine graphic and constructional qualities. But the tiling systems, or tessellations, used for jigsaws are bound to a 2D surface; one that lies politely on a tabletop. Whether made from cardboard or wood, these parts remain thin. The surfaces of buildings, on the other hand, move through space at multiple angles and capture volume in a variety of ways. In architecture, the 2D methods that organize tilings of panelized materials are always in contact with the 3D realities of built surfaces.

Fig. 01: The Fractile was developed by Cecil Balmond to cover the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum Spiral extension designed by Daniel Libeskind
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[1] The Remote Associates Test (or RAT) is a word puzzle that asks the solver to link three words using a fourth; the solution here is bed: bedrock, nail bed, and bedtime. Source: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/11/test-your-creativity-with-this-word-puzzle.html
[2] See Anne Williams, The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History (New York: Penguin, 2004), 13; the American manufacturer Stave Puzzles makes a 215 piece jigsaw puzzle that assembles in 10,000 different ways with only one correct solution.
[3] For a brief overview of patterns applied to geometrically ambitious architecture, see Paul Anderson and David L. Saloman, The Architecture of Patterns (New York: Norton, 2010), 17-38.
[4] See Cecil Balmond, informal (Berlin: Prestel, 2002), 189-209.
[5] Roman mosaics were also called opus tessallatum after the pebbles or cut pieces—tesserae (or tessellae)—used for the composition, see John R. Clarke, Roman Black-and-White Figural Mosaics (New York: NYU Press, 1979), 5.