On Left and Right: Chirality in Architecture

Chirality of an object is the property of potentially having a left-form and a right-form – handedness - of either physical objects or of illuminated objects. A pair of hands is a classic example; a pair of opposite shadows is another one; left handed and right handed amino acids is a molecular example. In the natural sciences the investigation of handedness effects is central and appears in many of its branches. In architecture, which relies heavily on shape, form, symmetry and shadow/light effects, considerations of chirality are non-existent, although chiral architectural design is common. For instance, spiral elements in high-rise buildings are well known, and their spirality renders them chiral, with either right-handedness as in the Mode Gakuken Spiral Towers in Nagoya, or left-handedness as in Calatrava’s Chicago Spire. In both cases, the opposite handedness is possible as well and could have been equally selected for construction. Interestingly, not only can the physical architectural design be chiral, but architectural chirality can be achieved by lighting effects. Yet we are unaware of a routine reference to the following basic question: Having designed a building which is chiral, which form should be constructed – the left-handed or the right-handed one? That question is of importance from two points of view: First, it has been documented in the arts that the aesthetic perception of left or right versions of the same object is different; and second, these two versions correspond differently with their natural and urban surroundings and environment, which, in most cases are chiral as well. It is the aim of this lecture to describe the intimate, relevant link between chirality and architecture, generalizing, as time will allow, to other fields of artistic design.

In collaboration with Dirk Huylebrouck, Department of Architecture, Sint-Lucas University, Gent, Belgium. Reference: D. Avnir, D. Huylebrouck, Nexus: Architecture and Mathematics, 15, 171-182 (2013)