Unfolding Humanity Exterior

Unfolding Humanity

The heart of this project is to design, build, and showcase a massive interactive unfolding metal sculpture, standing 10’ tall and unfolding to 40’ wide, covered with twelve hinged and LED-illuminated pentagonal acrylic faces. Hinges connect some of the faces to give participants the ability to interactively unfold it flat, using a series of torsion springs, cables and winches. It is engineered to handle any real-world interaction or environment. The exterior faces are dark green acrylic etched with characters illuminated by programmed and trailing LEDs invoking the iconic Matrix animation, whereas interior faces of reflective acrylic mirrors create a kaleidoscopic image of people.


The Unfolding Humanity project proceeds with the notion that shapes are symbolic of the sacred properties of the universe, and that experiencing this through art is a way to excite persons of all ages toward better appreciation of the Humanities. By “sacred,” we mean not what points toward a specific religious experience, or a particular religion, but that the characteristically human questions about purpose and meaning, about what makes life worth living, are questions pertaining to the indefinable and infinite, or the mystery that underlies all things. Such mystery is deeper than a mere problem to be solved: such mystery will never be solved; such discloses its beauty. As the physicist Max Planck declared, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And it is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.” The Humanities remind us of this mystery through the mutual reliance of art, language, mathematics and design. We human beings do not know who we are, and that is who we are.

Edge of the Unknown

The design of this Unfolding Humanity artwork aims to shed light on two unsolved problems. The first is motivated by work of the artist Albrecht Dürer, who asks: can every polyhedron be cut along some of its edges so that it unfolds flat without overlap? Every attempt to settle this 500-year-old problem has resulted in a positive answer, but geometers are still divided over whether this is always possible. Our artwork offers an example of such a positive answer, by allowing participants to unfold an (elegant and simple) dodecahedron in a way that satisfies the unsolved problem, bringing them to the edge of knowledge.

The second problem tackles the cosmological dilemma of the shape of our universe. In ancient times, our planet was thought to be flat, but today, we know the shape of the Earth, having traversed it and observed it from space. But what about our universe and its geometry — perfectly flat or bent and curved? Revolutionary data from cosmic microwave background radiation sensing satellites reveal that a universe with the same shape as the dodecahedron can explain recent measurements. This artwork, when closed, becomes an illuminated mirrored dodecahedral room designed to allude to this space. It gives participants an opportunity to enter a small finite universe modeled on this geometry in order to witness the complex beauty of a universe where light folds back upon itself.



Plato in the Timaeus gives a narrative of creation and correlates the four elements of nature with the Platonic solids: Fire (tetrahedron), Air (octahedron), Earth (cube), and Water (icosahedron). The last Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, refers to Heaven, symbolic of the mystery that undergirds the universe—the five sides of the pentagon on the face representing the microcosmic “quintessence” (fifth being)—as well as the macro-cosmos (from the Greek kosmos, “order”) itself, the harmony of the natural world. Unfolding Humanity adopts the dodecahedron as the symbolic structure of the universe based not only on Plato’s insight, but on the evidence provided by cosmic radiation. Indeed, Buckminster Fuller, the architect and philosopher, used this shape for his geodesic domes in an effort to make architecture more compatible with social accountability and efficiency.

Radically Engineered

Our structure has been carefully designed and tested by a team of engineers from the University of San Diego. Lead by a professor of engineering, a team of seven engineering students and alums explored multiple conceptual designs using 3D computer modeling, selecting a final design that called for steel pipe for the skeleton of the dodecahedron and welded steel frames for the pentagonal faces.

Community volunteers have partnered with countless student hours to fabricate the custom parts required for this unique artwork. At each build phase, components have been rigorously tested. For example, the welded vertices at the corners of the dodecahedron were tested to show they could withstand at least 9,000 pounds of force – well above the design requirements.

One of the key aspects of the structure is a kinematic system that allows the faces to be opened and closed like the leaves of a flower petal. To achieve the desired artistic effect, a structure that could be operated under only human power, the team selected chain hoists and gas springs to create a system that is both simple and safe to operate.


Artists of Light

The metal dodecahedral skeleton will be continually lit on both inside and outside by programmed LED strands which respond interactively to the level of openness of the panels.

LED lights will form an interior layer for each pentagonal face. The exterior faces will be dark when the dodecahedron is folded open, coming to life as each face is closed to the metal skeleton. When a face closes onto the frame, the falling character animation from the Matrix will come alive, indicating that a further step in the enclosure of a human participant has taken place.

The acrylic mirror faces on the interior of the structure will remain unlit, to allow the light from the frame to create intricate patterns in the many reflections.

Community Support

We have raised $31,000 of our $40,000 budget, with generous support from the San Diego Collaborative Arts Project, from the University of San Diego, and community donations. Please visit our crowdfunding page which includes rewards for donation levels.

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Visit and donate on our crowdfunding page.