Eureka and Serendipity: The Rudolf von Laban Icosahedron and Buckminster Fuller's Jitterbug

Caspar Schwabe
Proceedings of Bridges 2010: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2010)
Pages 271–278


Rudolf von Laban's (1879-1958) famous dance notation (1926) is based on the icosahedron. Laban strongly believed that our anatomy is built according to the laws of what he called a “dynamic crystallization&8221;. The rational six-sided cube could not describe the movement of the human body sufficiently. The idea of using the twenty-sided icosahedron as a matrix was a serendipitious discovery of Laban and it took place long before the scientific boom started around the icosahedron with the finding of the icosahedral viruses in 1959 and quasicrystals in 1984, which all are based on a “dynamic&8221; or icosahedral symmetry. Laban's idea of the reunification of mind and body through a “hands-on” icosahedron model is a good example of the avant-garde movement just about 100 years ago.

Buckminster Fuller's (1895-1983) discovery of the “jitterbug” transformation (1948) was his “eureka” experience, and eureka was the title of an emotional paper he wrote in the same year. It is the favorite “hands-on” model to demonstrate the “synergetics” concept. It states that regular geometric bodies do not stand statically next to one another but they are subjected to various phases - the tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedron, cuboctahedron – of a process of mutual transformation. The epoch-making confirmation of the “jitterbug” came only after Fuller's death. It will be shown that this kinematic novelty led to more exciting inventions and “hands-on” for performances.

The epilogue “Eureka, Serendipity and Hands-on” is a reminiscence on the “hands-on” movement in the sixties.