The Möbius Strip has been intriguing mathematicians since the nineteenth century and inspiring designers, artists and architects since the twentieth. The möbius strip was explained and demonstrated to me no fewer than 7 times during architecture school. “It’s really an intriguing problem” the demonstrator would start “you just turn the paper before joining to two ends, creating a shape with a single surface. Like this” as he or she proudly placed a finished, albeit wonky, paper construction on the flat surface of a desk. “Now run your finger along the surface to see that it’s just one side” Maybe I would have been more interested if someone had figured out how to make a möbius strip donut.
Truthfully, I was never sure what to make of or make with the möbus strip. It’s a geometric conundrum and construction nightmare that I’m not always sure yields the most compelling projects. Yes, the complex curving surface has informed excellent architecture projects in the past like this realized one or this proposed one, but the transformation to an inhabitable construction usually obscures the möbius strip. In most projects inspired by the mobius strip, the geometry is absent altogether, evaporating into an idea about a single experience or single, performative surface.
That’s why it’s nice to see the challenge taken head on. In the above sculpture, Tim Hawkinson uses all kinds of common bits and pieces to make an endless ship. It’s always easy to marvel at the tedious, obsessive work that goes into these models, and delightful to recognize the raw materials there. The hull, the deck and stern all morph into each other as masts radiate outward in different directions. It turns out that boats rely on different surfaces, one wet and one dry, to stay buoyant. In using a geometry that marries the wet and dry surface, he sinks his own ship in an absurd sea: a ship chasing it’s own tail. Or maybe Captain Ahab chasing a whale.
This is non-fiction. Ships confirmed what astronomers believed that the world isn’t flat. If we could fold the surface of the water over and join it at two ends, we would already have a ship ready to set sail. How lucky and unflat can you get?