Beauty in numbers: The Science Museum’s Winton Gallery

What does the Science Museum and Jigsaw design team have in common? Maths. It’s a beautiful thing…

4th April 2017

“No, not there. Stand here. Look at it from this angle,” one man is saying to a friend, moving him into position. Further on, another is gesticulating wildly, frustrated that the rest of his family doesn’t seem to understand what he is telling them. Meanwhile, children shriek in delight, ducking under an aeroplane.

I’m not at soft play, nor at Sunday lunch. I’m standing in The Winton Gallery, the new mathematics wing of the Science Museum in London, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. I can’t remember the last time I saw so much energy in a museum.

“There’s a huge appetite for a more sophisticated engagement with maths,” David Rooney, the gallery’s curator, explains, as he takes me through the exhibition. “We need more people studying the subject, but most people are glad they left it behind at school. As a museum, we can do the informal, in a subversive way.”

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Aside from the imposing Handley Page aircraft from 1929, which dominates the centre of the gallery, the first section to greet visitors is Form and Beauty. “Zaha Hadid understood the relationship between maths and beauty,” Rooney says.

And that’s partly why I’m here, because so does the Jigsaw design team. Our maths-inspired collection for Spring Summer 17 is split into two stories:  the golden ratio (Order) and chaos theory (Chaos).

The Jigsaw team designed a collection using the principles of the golden ratio, a formula based on balance and proportion, with an aesthetic precision that has seduced artists the world over for years. We commissioned illustrative artist Marcus James to interpret “order and chaos” into a set of artworks, printed on key pieces from this season’s collection.

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“This isn’t an intellectual exercise, it’s a creative exercise,” Rooney says of curating the exhibition space. “It’s about rhythm and tempo. Emotion. It isn’t linear, it’s spatial.” But he is quick to point out that it is certainly not a dumbing down exercise, either. “That’s the worst thing we could have done, to dumb it down to basic maths and make it ’fun’. Instead, we wanted to tell stories about how maths has shaped our world.”

In the Form and Beauty section, we are told that “proportion makes for harmonious buildings. Perspective gives us a commanding view. And without the work of mathematicians, today’s most daring buildings could not stay up”. One of my favourite pieces in this section is a wooden door case from an 18th century building in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. It was beautiful, and followed a set of mathematical rules of proportion first described 2,000 years ago.

But go and see for yourself. Lose track of time and stay for hours. It will be wonderful.

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By Ana Santi

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