City Museum 2010

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Objective: Imitate Escher with a pilgrimage to a site that can provide some of the inspiration that he found at the Alhambra. Groups will take photographs of symmetric patterns, classify their symmetry groups, and produce a poster for display in Ritter Hall.

In 1922, and again in 1936, M. C. Escher visited the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain, a fourteenth century Moorish palace renowned for its decorative artwork. He (with his wife) made sketches of numerous wall tilings, sketches that he later used as sources for his own mathematical art.


  • Digital cameras.
  • Paper and crayons for rubbings (provided).
  • Poster making materials (not needed at the City Museum, but later to complete the assignment)

The City Museum

St. Louis is privileged to be the home to the truly unique City Museum. While the City Museum is well known as a vast playground, it also houses an impressive array of architectural relics. Symmetric patterns can often be found in the detailing of urban buildings and the City Museum has many examples on display. In addition to the architectural hall, almost every surface in the City Museum is covered with some sort of decoration.

The City Museum is at 701 N. 15th Street, north of Washington Ave. We will be travelling to the City Museum on the Billiken Shuttle, in two groups, departing at 6:30pm and 7:00pm from the corner of Lindell and Spring. If you are driving yourself instead, note that parking at the City Museum is $5 and you'll need to meet up with the arriving shuttle to receive your entrance wristband. The shuttle will make two return trips to the SLU campus at 8:15pm and at 9:00pm. If you would like to stay longer, you'll need to arrange your own transportation home.

Our first stop in the City Museum will be the Architecture Hall on the third floor. This hall has actual friezes and rosettes from old buildings, as well as many other symmetrically decorated objects. Take photos, and carefully take rubbings here. We will provide crayons and paper for rubbings. After stopping in the Architecture Hall, you are free to explore the entire museum. Of particular note, the main elevator bays are decorated on all floors with old printing press plates, many of which have interesting symmetries that will make good rubbings.


Create a poster exhibiting the best of the patterns in the site.

Choose three patterns to use on the poster, ideally a mix of rosette, frieze, and wallpaper groups. Avoid choosing only dihedral rosette groups.

Photographs distort shapes and angles, and usually contain more than simply the symmeric pattern of interest, and rubbings often blur edges or have other non-symmetric features. To emphasize the symmetry, make an accurate sketch of the idealized pattern from each photograph. Each sketch should be at least 5x8 inches, on graph paper or white copier paper (not lined binder paper!), and done in pen or dark pencil. On each sketch, mark all symmetries of the pattern.

The poster should feature:

  • A title.
  • Names of group members, and a group photograph taken at the site.
  • Photographs and/or rubbings of the patterns you found. (Include at least one rubbing).
  • Idealized sketches of the patterns you found that have exactly the symmetries claimed.
  • Descriptions of the symmetries in each sketch, including the name of the symmetry group.
  • Descriptions of where you found each pattern at the site.

All of this should be stuck to a good sized piece of poster board.

These posters are intended for display, so put in the effort to make something you're proud of.

In addition, please upload all your photos to a photo sharing website. Identify the symmetry group of each pattern in your photos. You can include a link to this on your poster if you will allow the public to view them, otherwise email or hand in the link directly to your instructor.

Handin: Each group should hand in one poster. Make sure each group member contributed at least one photo/sketch/description cluster. Also hand in a link for viewing your photos.