I was recently researching Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and Islamic mosques for a paper in Art History, which prompted me to think about the intricate and decorative patterns used on the interior of the mosques. Interestingly, many of these patterns are geometric tessellations — the repetition of shapes to create patterns in which there are no gaps or overlaps of any of the shapes. The word tessellation itself is derived from the Greek word “tesseres,” or “four,” which corresponds with the fact that the first tessellations were initially made from four-sided squares.
I first became familiar with tessellations as a child when watching an episode of Cyberchase, a PBS Kids show about math, in which the characters use patterns of tessellations to make rafts and other gapless devices so they can traverse over lava, piranhas, and other dangerous obstacles. While watching the episode, I was immediately fascinated by the simple, repetitive beauty of these patterns, as well as the idea that tessellations can spread out and repeat over an infinite surface. I have always loved thinking about the concept of infinity, and tessellations have provided me the perfect lens through which to do so.
Throughout my research of tessellations, I have been particularly inspired by M.C. Escher – a Dutch artist whose tessellations are quite famous — to create my own tessellations using wooden geometric blocks, online tessellation makers, or just by drawing patterns of shapes onto a piece of paper. I also enjoy playing the DaVinci’s Challenge board game, in which players must create certain shapes with their tiles within a large tessellation in order to win points.
As you observe the world, keep an eye out for tessellations. Additionally, create your own tessellation, either using the mediums mentioned above or using your own medium. Try to incorporate different shapes and colors to create a variety of interesting patterns. Send me pictures of your creations!
Do you find tessellations interesting? Why or why not? Comment below to discuss.