Pentaminos

I do have one excuse as to why I have been neglecting this blog as of late. For the last month I have been working on a competition with my friend and colleague Dale Suttle. We submitted our entry on Monday and as the deadline has now passed I wanted to share some details about our entry. The competition called for a contemporary reinterpretation of a folly to be built in Socrates Sculpture Park . The main purpose of a folly is to orient and focus one’s attention on important views and paths through a park or garden. Being along the river in Queens, the primary view in Socrates Park is across to the island of Manhattan. The inspiration for our folly came from this distinctive city skyline.

The folly places itself within the pattern of the distant buildings, revealing a direct formal relationship to the skyline. Here the folly appears to be a fractal of the city, a repeated sawtooth pattern overlapping and collapsing in on itself. However, the relationship to the city skyline is not only formal, but systemic as well. The folly was developed using a similar logic to the growth of the city. It is an organic growth within a rigid grid. The patterns of solid and void are an emergent result of this simple organic growth, just as the pattern of the skyline is not explicitly designed, but emerged from the organic way in which the city grew.

The pieces that are placed in the grid are something that I have been interested in for some time. They are pentaminos, similar to the tetraminos seen in the game Tetris, except that they are made up of five congruent blocks instead of four. In fact, Pentaminoes come from an ancient puzzle game which was actually the inspiration for the game Tetris. The challenge of the pentamio puzzle comes from the pentamio’s resistance to being organized into uniform patterns. It is this quality that we use to generate a pattern of solids and voids which reflect those of the city. While doing some research for this project, I was surprised to learn that I am far from the first to connect the pentamino puzzle with patterns of cities. During World War II, a pilot from New Zealand looked down at the old European cities from his plane and was inspired to create his own puzzle game which he called ‘Cathedral’. His game involves placing pentamino and tetramino shaped ‘buildings’ onto a grid to build a city. It is still in production today and is considered a classic. Hopefully our folly will be viewed in a similar light by the competition judges and Dale and I will get the opportunity to explore the pentamio as a building material as well.