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Patterns in nature: WoRMS images in a unique design book


The book Coding, Shaping, Making combines inspiration from architecture, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and other fields to look towards the future of architecture, design and art. It presents ongoing experiments in the search for fundamental principles of form and form-making. This enables us to explore nature’s design principles so we can better inform our designs. Our experiments in physical making may also provide insight into how nature designs.

"With species disappearing at an accelerated rate, nature’s beauty embodied in its incredible designs is also disappearing. This loss is (in most part) irreversible. Darwin’s “endless forms, most beautiful” [1] referring to living forms, have always been an inspiration for art, design, architecture and other arts since the dawn of civilization. Understanding nature’s design secrets, how it makes its infinite variations from unified principles, is one important arm of the work in this book. This can inform our designs and lead to a greater economy of resources by integrating form-material-process as one triad. In our present technologies these three phenomena are separated unlike in nature where they are one. This integration will also signal a greater harmony between nature’s creations and ours, a harmony that has been severely disrupted in our threatened planet."

book cover

[1] These words appear in the closing sentence of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (see Darwin Online, 1859, p.490), they came to author’s attention from the title of Sean B. Carroll’s book Endless Forms Most Beautiful, The New Science of Evo-Devo (2005, W.W.Norton).

Prof. Haresh Lalvani

Haresh Lalvani is a tenured professor of Architecture at Pratt Institute. Known worldwide for his morphological, structural, and design innovations, Lalvani holds a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked at NASA-Langley Research Center, Computer Graphics Laboratory, NYIT, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai) and was an artist-in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. His work is in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and his sculptures are installed in New York City. (Source: Routledge)


To understand fundamental design principles that inform nature’s creations and ours, so that we can achieve a greater harmony between what we build and what nature does. The principles also enable us to go beyond nature, to invent new designs and technologies to shape our future.

Inspired by the two grand unifications in biology, the evolutionary tree and the genetic code, this work aspires towards a unified morphological universe (morphoverse), an open-ended expansive universe of formal possibilities. This imaginary universe captures the mathematical possibilities of form, all forms, past, present, and future. This is another arm of the book. Human made forms, and those made by nature, are selected points in this universe. Lines connecting these points are morphogenetic pathways of how one form is related to the other. The diagrams also represent the “ecology of form”, where one form changes to another within the system, in the same spirit of ecology in the natural world.

The driving motivation of the morphoverse is similar to the one that drives repositories of nature, like WoRMS and other digital data bases, physical collections in museums of “natural history” and private and public holdings, gene banks and seed banks, and others. The preservatory role of these collections of nature symbolize the important harmonizing process between us and nature. Such collections of nature, and the concept of the morphoverse which is aimed at harmony in the world of form, are thus intimately connected.

The 4-dimensional diagram shown under Methodology (Fig.1) is a micro-window into this morphoverse in which such diagrams are inter-connected in a vast (infinite!) universe. Some excerpts appear in Chapter 8 of Coding, Shaping, Making. In human physical constructs, form is (mostly) a spatial phenomenon. In nature, form is a space-time phenomenon. This leads to the idea of a form continuum in this work, where one form can continually morph into another within a unified framework and underpinned by formal rules. These diagrams are connectivity maps that also permit continuous changes in form.

Besides seashells patterns, the author has been looking at other organisms (insects, fishes, etc.) to test the universality of the morphological model presented under Methodology. Preliminary results are promising. If correct, this could lead to a morph tool kit (a universal design tool kit) which may interest Evo-Devo scientists working with the gene tool kit.



Generative morphology is used to determine design possibilities. One example is shown here with a simple family of seashell pigmentation patterns. It is based on an idealized 2-directional (2-way) growth on any curved surface. The concept of 2-directionality is familiar to us from the terms vertical-horizontal, longitude-latitude, along-across, radial-circumferential, and so on, and is exemplified by the square grid or a radial-concentric grid. In the context of seashells, the idealized square grid is curved three-dimensionally by mapping on the spiraling surface of the shell.

The first image (Fig.1) shows 16 classes of idealized 2-directional pigmentation patterns mapped on the same shell form. The patterns are located on the vertices of a hyper-cube (a 4D cube). For each pattern, a complementary pattern with reversed colors is located on the opposite vertex in the diagram. This leads to 8 complementary pairs of pigmentation patterns which are shown here with two colors, white and brown (or light and dark).

The unit cell of the spiral grid, represented by an idealized square, is shown on the bottom right of each seashell. It is subdivided into 4 smaller sub-cells which act as pattern-generators. Combinations of these sub-cells lead to a total of 16 classes of patterns. All 16 have a binary code of 0’s and 1’s.

8 examples of seashells patterns corresponding to the central portion of the preceding diagram are shown in the second image (Fig.2). These comprise 4 complementary pairs located across the center. Each pattern is shown with a group of images: the seashell with its name (left), an excerpted close-up of the seashell pigmentation pattern (right, top), the model pattern (right, bottom) and the binary code of the pattern.

The 0’s and 1’s in Figs 1 and 2 are stationary points in a continuum of patterns (a form continuum) and the different designs can be described in real numbers with decimal places. Two examples are shown (Fig.3).

methodology shells
shell colour

Used components of the LifeWatch Infrastructure

World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS)

The book “Coding, Shaping, Making: Experiments in Form and Form-Making” written by Prof. Haresh Lalvani and published by Routledge, uses several images of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS).

The aim of WoRMS is to provide an authoritative and comprehensive list of names of marine organisms, including information on synonymy. While highest priority goes to valid names, other names in use are included so that this register can serve as a guide to interpret taxonomic literature.

worms screenshot



Haresh Lalvani (2023), Coding Shaping Making, Experiments in Form and Form-making, Routledge.



The 39 videos referenced in the book with a QR-code can be seen via this YouTube link.

The first video is shown here:

Meta-Morphing Squares (1989, 2003) captures the form continuum concept in the book Coding, Shaping, Making and is shown with an array of squares that morph continuously. It provides a visual lead-in for mass-customized production of infinite form variations by various types of morphing. The concept is exemplified in Algorhythms (Videos 2-9). The morphing patterns in the animation show continuous transformations of black-and-white patterns characteristic of M.C. Escher’s celebrated artwork.

Animations on seashells are in progress. Other examples in nature (crystals, seedpods, fruit forms/seedpods) are also in progress. As examples, animations on basic fruit forms are here as a starting point:



  • Digital modeling/scripting: Peter Van Hage
  • Rendering, image production: Jiayue Chloe Ni, Rithika Vedapuri
  • Seashell images: WoRMS; Joop Trausel and Frans Slieker, Natural History Museum Rotterdam; Indo-Pacific Seashells; H.Zell; Toby Hudson.
  • Video/animation: Inside the videos (links above)



School of Architecture and Provost Office, Pratt Institute.



Prof. Haresh Lalvani, PhD - Director, Center for Experimental Structures

School of Architecture

Pratt Institute,

Brooklyn, New York, 11205



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