The Divine Proportion

Sometime in the mid-80’s, I decided to build a redwood deck in the back of our Mountain View home, just down the street from where Google is today (off Stierlin Road). I had been studying the Golden Mean and was inspired to build a spiral-shaped deck.

As I struggled through the mathematics, I realized it was much harder than I had thought. We needed 3.5″ integrals of linear dimensions on a spiral-curved plane. Wicked hard math. So I called my friend Larry (MIT, Ph.D. Math, Magna Cum Laude). The next day he brought me two pages of calculations which concluded in a formula that translated polar coordinates to linear dimensions relative to the location of boards. Wow. Another friend, Martin, built the structure from the most perfect redwood sticks we had ever seen. Not one knot in the entire deck (ironically, the entire house was built of redwood – back when it was about the same price as Douglas Fir).

We have photos of that deck somewhere around here, but couldn’t find them. Actually, I hadn’t thought about the spiral deck until someone sent me this stunning video animation which captures the mathematical essence of universally perfect spirals:  the golden rectangle – the Fibonacci Series – the Divine Proportion. One part of the animation looks EXACTLY like the deck we designed. Imagine a matrix of exquisite redwood planks forming a spiral that looks just like this (about 6 meters across).

Spiral Deck

Anyway, here’s the visualization from Spanish filmmaker Cristobal Vila. It is under 4 minutes, and very much worth your time.


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