Parabolic Curve

Space and Materiality

Serin Hwang

Spring 2018

Parabolic Curve Final Construction

Prof. Derek Haffar


Parabolic Curve Construction project was an interesting project which incorporated mathematical concept with an artistic construct. A parabolic curve appears when multiple points are at an equal distance from a fixed point and a fixed straight line. These consecutive straight lines form a curve which we often times see in nature; bird’s nest rotating liquid, etc.


I first began unpacking this project by doing multiple exercises of drawing parabolic curves in different forms to understand the characteristics and properties of a parabolic curve better. Once I was more comfortable with drawing the parabolic curve, I began designing the curve for a 3D model, exploring different ways of making the curves via changing and varying the axis and increasing and decreasing the axis interception points. These designs were then tested out using coffee stirring wooden sticks in order for me to get a sense of how they will look three dimensionally. These designs were rejected and altered accordingly until I chose a design that I felt strongly about.

The design I was originally going to create a 3D parabolic curve was a complex parabolic curve system which consisted of three different parabolic curves that were intertwined with one another. Due to the thickness of the coffee stirring sticks, I used thinly cut cardboard paper and staples to create the first draft parabolic curve model. However, the design did not turn out as I had anticipated, and the design seemed overdone and overly complicated. The feedback I got on my model allowed me to change my design completely and pursuit a more minimalistic and calm design which only consisted of one parabolic curve.

Choosing the type of wood was rather simple, as the types of wood left for scrap was limited. The wood I chose was plywood, as I liked the layers of thin wood that showed on both sides of the wooden stick when cut, which would enhance the design of my parabolic curve. Since it was my first time working in the wood lab and use the machines located in the lab workspace, I had difficulty cutting even strips of wood at first. However, upon multiple trials, I was finally able to cut strips of wood with even width. The first assemblage of the wooden pieces seemed like a success, however, the model felt a little rigid and stiff which contrasted with the picture I had in mind when designing this model. When designing this curve, I imagined it to be a large sculpture located in a large open landscape which would create a feeling of movement of the wind and fading of the sculpture with the wind. However, the model did not communicate the anticipated effect which was due to the straight cut plywood sticks, and I decided to cut one end of the sticks diagonally.

Disassembling the model was easy, as the wooden pieces were assembled using mechanical work, not adhesives. When I was first told that adhesives were not allowed due to multiple reasons (i.e. hard to disassemble when mistakes were made, creates a mess, does not dry on time, etc) I still believed that using adhesives still provided more benefits than disadvantages and questioned the professor’s purpose. I also thought that I would not be one of those many people who would alter the model once it had been assembled, as I did not doubt my designs. However, alterations had to be made after my first assemblage in order to create a better piece of work, and this was thankfully not a difficult task. Using mechanical methods to hold wood together requires more thinking, effort and time, and although I still believe in the advantages of using adhesives, I now know that there are more disadvantages of using adhesives, and the fun I had with finding a working method to keep my sculpture together without the use of glue.

I believe that there have been mistakes made during the process of making this sculpture, such as the sculpture not staying in position because of the thin dowels, however, I overcame this problem. I also believe that using a toothpick as my dowels was still the right choice to make regardless of the slight shifting it makes on my sculpture, as the thinness and color of the toothpick matched the overall color of the plywood used for the main body of sculpture.


Due to its minimalistic yet beautiful construction, parabolic curves can be applied in various real life designs. Examples include stairs design, chair designs, chandelier designs, clock designs, and countless more.


The amount spent on this project was US$ 0.00. This was possible because the materials used throughout this project was recycled resources I found. The cardboard used for testing out my earlier designs were from a cereal box, and the wood I used for the final model was constructed using scrap wood from the Parsons Making Center. Finally, the dowels I used (toothpicks) were from Chipotle. When I was first introduced to the $20 challenge, I knew it would be a possible challenge, however, I did not know that I could complete a single bridge project without using any money.

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