Project #1: Variable Tessellations

PROJECT #1: VARIABLE TESSELLATIONS   (Review: Thurs. February 21)
[download PDF]
[precedent images]
[Final images of student work]

This project will explore principles of rigorous, rule-based variation through processes of tessellation and tiled patterning. The objectives of the project are to (1) develop systematic ways of relating 2D and 3D geometries, (2) understand how subtle and incremental variations at one scale can produce larger change on a different scale, and (3) introduce methods of using parametric software to iterate and test different ways to deploy these variations.

Part A: Analog Tiling (due Tues. 1/29)

Using white Bristol paper, a straight edge, and an exacto blade, develop a system of folded modules that can tile outwards in multiple directions. Things to consider:

  • How can careful design of the 2D score lines generate significant 3D transformations in the folded module?
  • Think about how to design the geometry along the tile’s edge so that it aligns with adjacent tiles. 
  • Be extremely precise. Measure all fold lines accurately with a pencil beforehand, and work with grid systems to ensure accuracy.
  • Start to think algorithmically: What are the rules that govern the folding pattern? How can small, incremental changes in parameters of those folds generate changes within the module—but ensure that it still tiles properly with its neighbors?

For Tuesday, generate 3 different systems (minimum 6 tiles each, or enough to understand how the system behaves in a field condition). Document each study with photographs and post to the blog; be systematic and ordered with your documentation.

Part B: Digital Translation

Choosing the most compelling of your tiling systems to develop further, you will now reverse engineer the geometric logic within Grasshopper.

  1. Starting with just points and lines, develop a single 2D component in Grasshopper, using sliders to control the parameters that can vary within the tile. Organize your grasshopper definition so that cut lines and score lines can easily be baked separately onto separate layers.
  2. Expand the module into a field and begin to explore gradual changes in the variable parameters. This should still be all in 2D; in this case, Grasshopper is being used not to visualize the final 3D folded module, but rather to automatically distribute the variation throughout the system.
  3. Using Bristol paper, laser cut the variable modules (min. 6) and evaluate both the tiling behavior and capacity for variation.
  4. Repeat. Make sure to document each iteration consistently and clearly with photographs.


  • Final laser cut tiling pattern, large enough to understand the behavior of the system as a whole (min. 18” x 18”)
  • Pin up earlier analog tiling studies. Organize and curate to be as clear as possible about the logic of your system and the development of your process.
  • Diagram or Catalog (using Adobe Illustrator) of the rules that govern your tiling system. Print on 11×17 for the review.
  • Compress the following items in a ZIP file and email/Dropbox to instructor after review: PDF of Illustrator diagram, Grasshopper definition file, any associated Rhino file, digital photographs of physical models.


Evaluation Criteria:

  • Projects should demonstrate an ability to work seamlessly between 2D and 3D, in both digital and physical realms.
  • Projects should demonstrate an understanding of how to use Grasshopper to generate subtle variation but also ensure consistency in tiling between modules.
  • Projects should demonstrate successful use of the laser cutter.
  • Projects should demonstrate rigorous and organized documentation of process work.

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