Last week I was lucky enough to represent MESH at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS). BIRS is a math research conference centre, nestled in the spectacular Canadian Rockies at the Banff Centre, which itself claims to be the “largest arts and creativity incubator on the planet.” Seems like an ideal place to present our own take on the intersections between mathematics, the built environment and the arts.

The workshop, “Advances in Combinatorial and Geometric Rigidity” was attended by a mix of mathematicians, engineers, physicists, computer scientists and chemists. On the agenda? Math, math and more math. If the talks, problem sessions and discussions over shared meals weren’t enough, one could retreat to the lounge (aka ‘toybox’) where tables piled with mathematical model-building materials awaited your curiosity.

Origami model, Bryan Chen, Leiden University

It was truly an expansive week, and I learned a lot. Happily BIRS records all of the talks at the workshops, so you can also virtually attend! Here are a few that I’m planning to re-watch:

Bryan Chen, Leiden University: Topologically ’polarized’ periodic frameworks and applications to toys and origami

This was a great talk, and his models were excellent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lego used in a math model (a mechanism!) before.

Wai Yeung (Wayne) Lam, Technische Universität Berlin: Isothermic Triangulated Surfaces OR Discrete Minimal Surfaces

A nice taste of discrete differential geometry, including an interesting pair of 3D reciprocal meshes and a connection to mesh offsets.

Simon Guest, Cambridge University: Design and Construction of a new tensegrity sculpture

This is the description of the method for constructing a new tensegrity structure (these sculptures look simple but are quite tricky to actually produce).

Steven Gortler, Harvard University, and Bob Connelly, Cornell University: Second order rigidity, Pre-stress stability and when do polygonal holes not destroy rigidity of a polytope?

This talk helped me to (finally) understand the significance of pre-stress stability.

Toby Mitchell, SOM, and Allan McRobie, Cambridge University: Reciprocal Diagrams, Graphic Statics, Airy Stress Functions and Polyhedra

This talk describes an interesting and ambitious project to try to recover some “lost” methods from engineering by reading old texts of Maxwell and others on projective geometry. The premise is that these methods still have relevance for contemporary engineering practice.