Though they reached the apex of both their visibility and importance in the sixteenth century, polyhedra have descended today into the somewhat kitsch realm of the trinket: prized for their symmetry and sold in museum stores, mused about on innumerable blogs, linked to on Pinterest pages, and available for purchase in various materials on Etsy or Amazon. Nevertheless, the casualness with which these geometries are presented as tangible entities, made to be cut out and folded together in children’s books and easily modeled on the computer, belies the radicality of their prehistory as the premier test subjects for a newly material engagement with geometry and geometrical knowledge. Adopted to hone precision measurement and perspective skills in Renaissance workshops and first surfacing at the dawn of printing as early visualizations of Euclid’s Elements, in the hands of early modern artisans and architects the Platonic solids (or “regular bodies”) evolved into an intense field of experimentation into and out of the third dimension, at once a new language of abstraction and a starting point for potentially limitless geometrical invention and form-making strategies. The lecture will trace how geometry, long before the abandonment of the parallel postulate in the nineteenth century, found itself increasingly under strain by its tensile connections to media and how the distortion of the solids, both formally and at the level of their interaction with an imperfect materiality, fashioned a new space for geometry around and outward from unstable objects rather than through the hegemonic, spatial definitions of perspective.
Noam Andrews, a historian and architect, is the author of The Polyhedrists: Art and Geometry in the Long Sixteenth Century (MIT Press 2022). Based in Brussels, he received his PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University, and his architectural degrees from Cornell University and the Architectural Association School of Architecture. He has taught at Ghent University in Belgium, New York University, and as Diploma Master at the Architectural Association, and has been the recipient of fellowships from Research Foundation Flanders, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Villa I Tatti - Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Besides The Polyhedrists, his recent published work deals with the spatiality of early modern outer space, the material ambiguity of early cosmological models, and the history of the racial profile in the geometrical work of Albrecht Dürer.
The Berlage Sessions, a seven-part seminar series entitled “Architecture’s Transpositions,” examines the mediatic disciplinary transfers, from sixteenth-century abstracted geometries to twenty-first-century augmented realities. Topics will include the digitization of maps, the creation of digital replicas of landscapes, the modelling of multisensory extended reality experiences, the framing and photographing of buildings, and the imagined histories of architectural drawings and models.