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Tessellation in Design: An Overview Of Uses

Posted by Dave Sherman on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 | No Comments »

What is this word “tessellation?”  Besides being fun to say, tessellation is comprised of the Latin root word “tessera” or small stone cubes, in particular used in a group to form a bigger picture.  Today, tessellation can take on slightly different meanings whether you are speaking in terms of design, architecture, mathematics or computer science.  But at the very basis, tessellating patterns are the tiling of one or more shapes in a repeating pattern (and here’s the important part) in a manner that there are no overlaps or gaps.

Wikipedia provides a more in-depth explanation, but for our purposes I’ll provide a few examples of how tessellations have been used in architecture for structural and design purposes and in nature for both.

Architecture:

  • I took this photo while at the National Palace of Pena in Sintra, Portugal. Many call it “The Real Life Disney Castle” due to its lavish use of color and decorations.  On the top, you have various decorative tessellations.  You can point out various uses of circles, squares, triangles, flowers, stars and other shapes that nest well next to each other in repeating patterns.  On the bottom, the simple block tessellated patterns offer mostly structural support.
decorative tessellation

Decorative Tessellation

 

block wall

Structural Tessellation

 

Nature:

Nature is the Queen of using tessellations for a (first and foremost) functional purpose, but in the end, we find them beautiful as well!  For example:

  • We would argue, the honeycomb or hexagonal shape might simply “bee” the most used tessellation pattern within product design over the past few years.  But for the bees, this shape is important because they needed to ask: “Which shape uses the least amount of building material (wax) but houses the most amount of goods (honey).”  To learn more about the complexity behind their choice, check out this brief TED Ed.
Hexagonal Tessellations of a Honeycomb

Hexagonal Tessellation Pattern of a Honeycomb

 

  • Feathers provide another great example of a beautifully constructed tessellated pattern that’s simple yet provides multiple functions.  Much of the multi-functionality of feathers is due to the way the tessellated pattern and the structure of the feather (aka their“inside technology”) complement each other.  Together, they are soft, flexible and light weight – all very necessary.  Duck feathers in particular are structured to help keep moisture away and provide an insulated barrier for their bodies.  Additionally they are strong and durable – helping them to fly long distances.
feather tessellation

Feather Tessellation  –  Photo credit: John Farrar http://www.fragileland.co.uk/gallery.html

 

So how can you use tessellations to help you achieve the ultimate mix of captivating aesthetic design, product functionality and new technology incorporation in your new products?  Stay tuned next week for our top 3 tips for incorporating tessellations into your designs.

But now we’re curious, what other interesting tessellations have you seen around you?  Please send photos to us at: solutions@rogerscorp.com.  We’d love to share them in our follow up blog!

 

Dave Sherman

Dave Sherman

Technical Design Solutions Manager at XRD® Impact Institute
Dave Sherman is the Innovation Leader at the XRD® Impact Institute - the research, design and testing facility of XRD® Impact Protection Technology. His experience involves a wide variety of foams including polyethlyene, polypropylene, EVA, rubber, polyurethane, silicone, and melamine. He has a Chemical Engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from RPI, as well as over 30 years of experience in the business of developing material solutions to meet demanding customer needs.

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