Design by Numbers

Leonardo Fibonacci was an Italian merchant in the 13th century who spent a lot of time with the Arabs in the North African trading post of Bejaia. From them, he learnt of a deceptively simple series of numbers – 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … – in which each number was the sum of the two numbers before it. He published this series in a book in 1202, and all hell broke loose.

As Spanish animator Cristóbal Vila illustrates so beautifully in the video below, the Fibonacci series turned out to not only have many hidden patterns and possibilities, but was also everywhere in nature. Vila pulls up the usual suspects – a nautilus shell and the seeds in a sunflower – but my geeky heart was most satisfied by the complexity of that dragonfly’s wing.

Before you replay that wonderful video, you might want to remember that the Fibonacci series was also long considered bread-and-butter mathematics for designers and architects. The ratio of the higher numbers in the series comes closer and closer to the Golden proportion – that divine formula that some say underlies the architecture of the Parthenon and the composition of the Mona Lisa. You may think that Le Corbusier was indulging in hyperbole when he said that the Golden proportion “resounds in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned.” But consider this – all standard sized credit cards measure 54mm by 86mm, less than a millimeter off of a perfect Golden ratio.

Categories: Arts + Culture