July 23, 2014

A Mathematical Eye on Portland

MAA MathFest 2014 will be held August 6-9, 2014, in Portland, Oregon, bringing together more than 1,500 mathematicians. Known for its riverfront scenery, culinary delights, and cool vibe, the city also has a lively art and architecture scene. And you can find lots of examples of embedded mathematics, from the parabolic arcs of the city's fountains to the geometric intensity of its bridges.

In a city of many bridges, the Hawthorne Bridge stands out. A steel structure, it was completed in 1910 and is the oldest vertical lift bridge in operation in the United States.

The bridge carries more than 30,000 vehicles and untold numbers of pedestrians and cyclists every day across the Willamette River.

Fountains and cascades abound throughout the city, spraying water in parabolic arcs or letting it tumble down angular blocks or stairs (for more on the geometry of fountain sprays see "The Geometric Spectacle of Water Fountains" and "Fountain Parabolas").

One of the more striking is the Ira Keller Fountain, which occupies a city block at SW Clay and Market. Water scrambles down an array of stone blocks in what looks like a Euclidean abstraction of a wilderness waterfall.

Another noteworthy fountain, dubbed unofficially "The Car Wash," spews water in untidy parabolic arcs. It's located at SW 5th and Ankeny.

Sculptor Clement Meadmore (1929-2005) was known for his massive square prisms, twisted into powerful but graceful configurations (see "Bending a Square Prism").

A particularly intriguing example, titled "Split Ring," stands in front of the Portland Art Museum on SW Park Avenue.

You can also admire the graceful curves of rose blooms in Portland’s Washington Park International Rose Test Garden at 400 SW Kingston.

A visit to the classical Lan Su Chinese Garden at 239 NW Everett offers not only a teahouse but also gardens and walkways featuring stones arranged into intricate, symmetrical patterns.  

Architectural details throughout the city highlight a variety of geometric forms—giving a strong sense of diversity in pattern and shape.

Below, intricate tilings and reflective light fixtures brighten up the entryway to a building in downtown Portland.

Portland is worth exploring for the many examples of public art that dot its streets and public buildings. You’ll find a guide for a public art walking tour at http://racc.org/sites/default/files/ArtWalk_2014.pdf.
Or consult the Public Art PDX app for your smartphone for information about the sculptures and other artworks that you might encounter as you wander the streets.

Portland also has 196 public staircases. Some of the more interesting examples are highlighted in the guidebook The Portland Stairs Book by Laura O. Foster.

Happy trails!

Photos by I. Peterson