New Book by Andrew Witt Examines the Visual Intersections of Architecture, Mathematics, and Culture

Cover of the book Formulations by Andrew Witt.
Photo courtesy of Ben Fehrman-Lee

A new book by Associate Professor in Practice of Architecture Andrew Witt examines more than 150 years of seeing, drawing, and modeling architecture mathematically. It presents a rich tour of the drawing machines, geometric patterns, crystal structures, and stereoscopic images that connected modern architecture to modern science and expanded spatial imagination. The book’s research builds on the GSD seminar “Narratives of Design Science” led by Witt in past years.

Released in January 2022 by the MIT Press, Formulations: Architecture, Mathematics, Culture bridges the art of science and design. The book studies architecture’s encounter with mathematical calculation systems that were ingeniously retooled by architects for design. To illustrate initial exchanges between design and science, Witt provides a catalog of pre-digitization drawings and calculations from mid-twentieth-century mathematical practices in design. Formulations also takes up the “formal compendia that became a cultural currency shared between modern mathematicians and modern architects.”

Book spread featuring black and white images of a machine and an abstract design.
Photo courtesy of Ben Fehrman-Lee

As a way of illustrating the many ways mathematics penetrated design thinking as we know it today, Formulations examines a variety of innovations, including early drawing machines that mechanized curvature, the virtualization of buildings and landscapes through surveyed triangulation and photogrammetry, and stereoscopic drawing.

Antoine Picon, director of doctoral programs and G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at the GSD, describes the book as a “brilliant and thought-provoking navigation through complex mathematical notions, models and machines, spatial patterns, and construction techniques. A must-read for anyone interested in the relationships between architecture, mathematics, and digital techniques.”

Formulations is part of the Writing Architecture series, edited by Cynthia Davidson, which includes previous contributions from Harvard faculty members including Giuliana Bruno, Edward Eigen, and K. Michael Hays. It is the first book in a complete graphic redesign of the series, by graphic designer Ben Fehrman-Lee.

Trained as both an architect and a mathematician, and a graduate of the GSD’s MArch and MDes programs, Witt’s research explores the relationship between architecture, science, and visual techniques through the lens of mathematics. He is also editor of the trilogy “Studies in the Design Laboratory,” jointly published by the GSD and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The final installment of the series, Tange Lab: The Quantified Economy and Urban Futurism, will be available online soon.

Learn more about Witt’s Formulations from the MIT Press.