“Seeing Structures Beneath” at the Lionel March Memorial Conference, Cambridge University, UK

I had the honour to be among the invited speakers in the Conference organized in memory of Prof. Lionel March in Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. The conference featured talks by Prof. March’s collaborators and students throughout his prolific trajectory from the Land Use Built Form Studies Center at Cambridge to UCLA. Full conference program and photographic coverage of the event here.

My presentation’s abstract: In a 2002 survey article reviewing relations between architecture and mathematics since 1960, Lionel March recounted the events that led to the Geometry of Environment — the first book publication of the Land Use Built Form Studies (LUBFS) Centre. The book, which March co-authored with Philip Steadman, was an invitation from the RIBA Library Committee to illustrate the potential of “new maths” in architecture. The invitation, March remembers, was triggered by Alison and Peter Smithson’s remarks about a “generational gap” between the mathematics that they knew as architects and the mathematics taught to young British students, including their son, which left them “at a loss.” This presentation traces influences and parallels between the educational movement of the new math –along with the mathematical cultures from which it emerged— and early work at LUBFS. It begins by providing some historical context on the new math and positioning it within broader currents in 20th century mathematics, with particular focus on debates about the status of geometry, shapes, and visual intuitions. Then, through examples drawn from the Geometry of Environment and other LUBFS working papers, it contemplates both technical and intellectual influences of these currents on the ways in which Lionel March and LUBFS researchers mathematically described architectural form. Ultimately, the presentation seeks to offer historical and critical insights on the ways in which this early body of work was permeated by, and contributed to, the cultivation of a new mode of seeing in architecture: one that moves away from sense-perceptible appearance and sees structures beneath.