In 1847, an eccentric British mathematician named Oliver Byrne released a new edition of Euclid’s famous mathematical treatise, The Elements of Geometry. Byrne added a rather longwinded but ultimately straightforward subtitle: “In Which Coloured Diagrams And Symbols Are Used Instead Of Letters For The Greater Ease Of Learners.” Updating a 2,000-year-old geometry textbook might seem like a real snoozer, but it was Byrne’s titular diagrams that made this 19th-century edition a design classic.
From a design point of view, Byrne’s original color-coded Euclidean proofs were truly ahead of their time. Like a mathematical Piet Mondrian, Byrne used vivid colors, crisp geometry, and clear lines to create a book that was so compelling, it was one of the few books on display at the first World’s Fair in London in 1851. This beautiful design has now inspired paper engineer and illustrator Helen Friel to create a new series of paper sculptures called (wait for it) “Here’s Looking at Euclid.”
Created for charity as part of a collaboration with online printing company Moo.com, “Here’s Looking at Euclid” re-imagines Byrne’s colorful diagrams in three dimensions to literally pop out of the page. Choosing five of the most attractive of the Euclidean proofs, Friel first created 3-D models of all the necessary segments, then flattened them on the computer into a pattern suitable for folding. Once that was accomplished, each pattern was printed out on Colorplan paper, meticulously folded, then glued together and photographed.
To Friel, Byrne’s version of The Elements of Euclid represents two of the things papercrafters love best: color and bringing geometry to life. “Byrne’s version of The Elements of Euclid is an absolutely beautiful piece of work and far ahead of its time,” says Friel in an online interview. “The books were published in 1847 but the colors and clean lines could be from today. Byrne also simplified Euclid’s proofs by using color instead of letters and numbers. It’s a more visual and intriguing way to describe the geometry.”
You can now purchase your own business cards with images of Friel’s sculptures and Byrne’s Euclidean proofs on them at Moo.com.