Vol. 14, No. 1 (page 1)
PATTERNS BEFORE TIME
A Unit of Study
Have you ever looked at a honey comb and
thought about how it reminds you of the consistent pattern
you see in the tiles on a floor? Have you wondered what this
process is called? How it is made? Or where the idea came
from? Well the design of the honey comb and the designs that
the floor tiles make are called regular tessellations. The
history of tessellations dates back to the early Greeks. The
word “tessellate” is derived from the Ionic version
of the Greek word “tesseres,” which in English
means “four.” The first tilings were made from
square tiles. The Greeks actually used small quadrilateral
tiles as tokens in their games. These tiles then were taken
and used to make mosaic pictures on walls, floors, and ceilings.
Artists and designers have been using tessellating
designs for thousands of years in every thing from floor tiles,
to carpets, metalwork, quilting, and stained glass. They can
be traced all the way back to the Sumerian civilization (about
4000 B.C.) The most striking use of tessellations in designs
come from the Moorish artists. Between 700 and 1500, they used mosaic
designs because the Islamic religion forbade the artists to
include representational objects in the decoration of religious
monuments. Since these artists could not represent people,
animals, or other objects in religious monuments, they were
limited to linear designs and geometric patterns for ornamentation.
M.C. Escher was inspired by the Moorish mosaic
designs he encountered at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada,
Spain when he visited the palace in 1923. However, rather
than limiting himself to abstract designs of the Moorish artists,
he began warping geometric shapes into the forms of birds,
reptiles, fish, and people. Escher used triangles, squares,
and hexagons in his tessellations, applying reflections, translations,
and rotations to obtain a greater variety of patterns.
This lesson describes the historical and cultural significance
of the patterns in the Islamic tile work at the Alhambra Palace.
Students will recognize the influence of cultural history
and geometric concepts in both the decorative tile work of
Islamic craftsmen, and the graphic design of the artist M.C.
Note: The target audience for this unit is
fifth grade. This grade level was selected because the math
concepts in the lesson reflect those required by Texas Knowledge
and Skills for the fifth grade level.
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