A Platonic Party

Platonic solids were once nearly divine. These five forms, which include the tetrahedron and the hexahedron (more frequently called cube), were defined by their regular and congruent structures – each face is the same shape. Their geometric immutability combined with their immaterial flexibility made them the focus of critical discourse in disciplines ranging from astronomy to philosophy for thousands of years.[1]

However, during the 21st century, Platonic solids (like other primitives and polygons) were appropriated by digital tools. As buttons for populating models with mathematically predetermined forms, these once sacrosanct objects are now most commonly associated with the graphic shorthand on toolbars in modeling programs. Absorbed by software, the accessibility of Platonics rendered them common and mundane. Once perceived as god-like, Platonic solids ended up being square.

The evolution of geometric tools has enabled designers to move past mathematically rigid geometries into computationally flexible simulations. Designers engage sliders, toggles, and inputs to control everything from friction to mass to plasticity – the results output simultaneously as an animated timeline of iterations.[2]These tools enable designers to simulate, control, and sculpt the effects of gravity, smoke, fluid, and cloth – an entirely new set of forms, uncanny in their material familiarity.

Physicalized by 3D printing, the simulations shed their material agency in favor of a formal one. At the same time, the surface – and thus material – has been shaped by the digital traits of the software in which it was designed.[3]The artifacts of the digital process – the glitches, faceting, and intersections – are materialized as digital kerf marks, defining every detail of the object. Subject to this ecstasy of multiplicity, Platonic solids are destabilized and delirious. They reemerge, unhinged from rigid principals – orientations inverted, materials confused, and perspective groundless.[4]

Debased and physical, Platonic solids have relaxed. No longer divine, immaterial, or unchangeable – in the age of digital exuberance, even Platonics party.

This was a project completed in the independent study, “Uncanny Objects,” in Fall 2017 and exhibited in Spring 2018 at the University of Michigan, Taubman College.

Special thanks to:

Advisor: Hans Tursack

Sponsors: Kraemer Design Group, Meadowlark Builders, Ann Arbor Architects Collaborative, Jan Culbertson, and Mark Farlow

[1]Kline, Morris. Mathematics In Western Culture.Oxford University Press, 1953.

Ancient philosophies affirmed that our fundamental reality of nature is derived from Platonic mathematics – “God’s mathematical arrangement.” Modern day science traces its origins from these Platonic arts.

[2]May, John. “Everything Is Already an Image.” Log,no. 40 (2017): 9-26.

In describing postorthography, May discusses the shift from orthography which predominantly represents the world, to imaging, which he posits are real-time models of the world and simulations of all possible futures.

[3]Ingold, Tim. “Materials against materiality.” Archaeological Dialogues 14, no. 1 (2007): 1-16.

Ingold defines material in three parts: medium, substance, and surface. Medium is the ethereal matter that enables perception; substance is the physical thing; and surface – the component between medium and substance – is the piece that defines nearly all perceivable qualities about the material, from texture to shape to color.

[4]Stereyl, Hito. “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.” E-flux Journal,no. 24 (2011).

New softwares with aerial views have defined a new visual paradigm, dramatically altering our sense of spatial and temporal orientation. “The present moment is distinguished by a prevailing condition of groundlessness.”