After looking at the intersections of symmetrically placed cylinders and obtaining curved polyhedra, it is tempting to straighten these intersections by looking at intersections of columns instead.

The simplest case is that of three perpendicular columns. The intersection is a cube. Fair enough. But what happens if we rotate all columns by 45 degrees about their axes?

Col 3 union

Before we look, let’s make it more interesting. In both cases, we can shift the columns so that their cross sections tile a plane with squares. Surely, every point of space will then be in the intersection of a triplet of perpendicular columns. In other words, the intersection shapes will tile space.

Col 3 shifts

Yes, right, we knew that in the first case. I find the second case infinitely harder to visualize. Fortunately, I have seen enough symmetrical shape to guess what the intersection of the three twisted columns looks like it is a rhombic dodecahedron.

But not all triplets of columns that meet do this in such a simple way, there is a second possibility, in which case the intersection is just a twelfth, namely a pyramid over the face of the rhombic dodecahedron.

Col 3 twist

Together with the center rhombic dodecahedron they form a stellation of the rhombic dodecahedron, or the Escher Solid, of which you have made a paper model using my slidables.

Escher combo

Above you can see a first few of Escher’s solids busy tiling space.

Golem (Fattend Skeletons)

Today I want to look at decorations of simplicial graphs. As an example, here is a decoration of last week‘s skeleton:


The vertices of the two skeletons have been replaced by tetrahedra, oriented and scaled so that vertices of neighbors touch. This should explain what I mean by a decoration: A geometric construction that consistently modifies the graph, in order to obtain something with similar symmetries (many) and possibly other desired properties. Another simple and well known decoration is that by Voronoi cells: We replace each vertex by the set of all points that are closer to that vertex than to any other vertex. In this case, the Voronoi cells are truncated octahedra, as shown in another post. Instead of replicating it here, one can also pass to the dual tiling, which is by rhombic dodecahedra. Try viewing it cross eyed.


This is another polyhedral version of the Diamond surface of Schwarz. Like the one obtained from the truncated dodecahedra, the polyhedral approximation shares the conformal structure (by sheer symmetry).

There is another decoration that is quite remarkable:


Here, we have replaced each vertex and each edge of the original graph by an octahedron, properly scaled an oriented. We thus get two fattened skeletons that are congruent and disjoint. All faces are equilateral triangles, and all vertices have valency 6. There even is enough room between them to fit in the truncated octahedra, as one can see in the last image.


This image also shows how to position each octahedron within the cubical lattice: The central octahedron has its vertices along the edges of the lattice, dividing each edge in the ratio 1:3. That ratio ensures that the other three octahedra in the image become in fact regular. More about this next week.

Cubes, Cylinders and Triangles

If you don’t have the bricks available that I used as substitutes for a rhombic dodecahedron, you can still make simple models jut using cubes: Take an ordinary cube, and choose three edges, one in each coordinate direction, and so that they don’t share a vertex. There are, up to rotations, two ways of doing so. Let’s call them blue and red. Make a few dozen of the blue cubes.


Now comes the tricky part: You are only allowed to attach two cubes so that they share one of their blue edges. This is fairly easy in zero gravity, or in your favorite computer software, like Minecraft. The structure you get this way is yet another version of the Laves graph. This looks clumsy, but it is useful for prototyping things. It also gave me the idea of a further reduction that is even harder to hold together but much more elegant: Replace each marked cube by the equilateral triangle that has its vertices at the midpoints of the marked edges.


Now one even has plenty of room to show the two intertwining Laves graphs simultaneously. What one cannot see very well in the above ethereal image is that if one orthogonally pierces a cylinder through the midpoint of any triangle, the cylinder will periodically hit other triangles in the same way, without interfering with any other triangles or cylinders.


Out of the sudden, there is structure. And it gets better: Because the cylinders don’t interfere, we can make their radii so big that they reach the vertices of the triangles. This way the cylinders will touch precisely at the vertices of the triangles. This means that the cylinder packing that uses cylinders in all four directions of the diagonals of a cube can be used to construct the Laves graphs: Determine where the cylinders touch. Each of these points belongs to two equilateral triangles equitorially inscribed in the two touching cylinders. Use the triangles centers as vertices of the Laves graph, and connect them by an edge if the triangles meet at a vertex.


More Choices

Last week we saw that using just the left handed of the two bricks that I based on the rhombic dodecahedron produces nothing but the Laves graph. Using the right handed brick makes the mirror image of the Laves graph, and one can see


that they intertwine nicely. Of course it would be better to have real bricks, and with help from Martha and the friendly people at MadLab of our Fine Arts School, I could play with a few dozen left and right bricks.

DSC 6390

In the above picture left and right bricks are color coded, and the sculpture starts with a hexagonal ring and then grows tentacles in a single color. These will come together and close, but leaving gaps looked more interesting.

DSC 5896

Here (above and below) you can see that I cheated, because I am also using a brick with four sides. It is geometrically much simpler, but of course still based on the rhombic dodecahedron, replacing four of its sided by their inscribed ellipses, and then taking their convex hull. This allows for tighter loops as in the image above, and allows for more design options.

DSC 6395

Another Brick in the Wall

When Apple announced in July this year they had sold 1 billion iPhones, I started wondering about another brick maker: How many blocks has Lego made? Their friendly customer service couldn’t tell me how many elements they have made in total, but the yearly production is 19 billion. Scary. Unfortunately, the shape of the standard lego brick is too limited for my needs. For a long time, I had wanted a lego brick in the shape of a rhombic dodecahedron (better would be a four dimensional lego hypercube of which the rhombic dodecahedron is a mere shadow, but let’s not be delusional). As you can see, this polyhedron tiles space as well if not better than the cube.


Various companies have produced shapes with more or less cleverly embedded magnets, but keeping track of the polarity on all faces of a 12 sided object is tricky. And this would be a lot of magnets. The actual problem, however, is the enormous amount of choices one has: 12 faces to attach to is just too much. I strongly believe that Lego’s success stems from the fact that they have reduced the number of possible ways how you can attach two lego pieces dramatically. No choice means dictatorship, two choices US capitalism, but more choices sounds like European liberalism or even anarchism, and we see where that leads.

This gave me the idea to replace the complicated rhombic dodecahedron by a simple object that is less attachable. Here is the new brick.


To make it, take three faces of the rhombic dodecahedron that are symmetrically positioned, and replace each of the three rhombi by its inscribed ellipse. Then take the convex hull of the ellipses. The resulting shape consists of the ellipses, two equilateral triangles in parallel planes, and three intrinsically flat mantel pieces.

You will notice that there are two versions of this brick, a left and a right handed one. This leaves just the right amount of choices.


If you alternatingly attach a left to a right brick, you get a hexagonal annulus. Remember that we are still tiling space using slimmed down versions of the rhombic dodecahedron. Due to our imposed limitation of choice, nor every place can be reached anymore. The hexagonal annulus is a little simplistic. What do we get if we just use the left handed brick?


Let’s start with a red central brick, attach a brick on all three sides, and another six at the free faces of the new bricks. We notice that the bricks can occur in four different rotated positions. I have distinguished them by color. Add another 12 bricks:


And another 24. No worry, no intersections can occur, because, I insist, we just tile a portion of space with rhombic dodecahedra.


Now we see that the tree like structure we have produced so far does not persist. In the next generation, we obtain closed cycles of length 10, and we finally recognize the Laves graph.


In the very near future you will see what else one can make with these bricks.