Friday, September 17, 2010

Escher's pillars in a high school in The Hague, Netherlands

A couple of years ago I spent a couple of weeks in Holland and decided to look for Escher's designs. I knew from my readings that Escher designed three pillars for the central auditorium of the Johanna Westerman School in 1959.  Escher did this project in collaboration with an architect named Bleeker.

The pillars support a balcony in the auditorium of the school. The school and auditorium are still in use and when we arrived they were in the middle of a graduation ceremony. When we returned later that day we had a chance to freely look around and take pictures of the pillars.

The 3 pillars in the Johanna Westerman School 

The tiles were made by "De Porceleyne Fles", a tile and ceramics company from Delft. The three designs were carefully chosen by Escher to be educational.

The front column has rotational symmetry: consider the white lizard and give it a half-turn around the point defined by his nose. The lizard will then align perfectly with the other white lizard. The design consisting of lizards is based on regular division print 104 as shown in Schattschneider's Visions of Symmetry.

The pillar can be tiled with just one type of tile in this case. Each tile consists of one while lizard and the rest of the tile is black.  A half-turn on alternate tiles then creates the pattern we see. The black segments carefully match up to create the image of the black lizards.

The second column is based on regular division print 74 and from the point of view of symmetries is the simplest of the three. The design only has translational symmetries. We can slide one image on top of another, but no other motions will cause the separate images to align themselves.

Here again only one tile is used. In this case the tile does not contain a full image of a bird, but instead is carefully designed to create images of black and while birds when columns of tiles are placed with a vertical shift allowing the heads of the birds to align with their bodies.

The last column is based on print 96 and has glide reflectional symmetries. If you take the image of a black swan and shift it up half a tile length and then flip it over a vertical line, it will align itself with the white swan.

One tile is used to cover the pillar and create a pattern where white swans fly to the right, while black swans fly to the left.

[Thanks to my sister for her company, support and for several of these photographs.]

1. Schattschneider, Doris [1990] (2004). Visions of Symmetry - Notebooks, Periodic Drawings, and Related Work of M. C. Escher, 2nd, Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0810943085.


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  2. I'm trying to find some information about the mosaic flower, displayed at the entrance of the Johanna Westerman School. I find it most amazing! It reminds me of Jan Bouhuys & Nel Klaasen mosaic work by the Shell building in The Hague.
    The art records regarding the school, only refer to the pillars of Escher, wich is most fantastic by the way! But still, i'm curious who made the mosaic flower?

    Any way here's an update about three pillars from Escher.
    Seems like there getting a new home, I hope the mosaic flower art object, will survive aswell.