You first learned about hexagons in kindergarten. (No, they are not stop signs). It’s common, but still a little out there - a bit zanier than the square, circle or triangle. It can be found on vintage soccer balls from the 70s. There is something about those six sides that make it quite stunning.
What, exactly, is a Hexagon?
The name is derivative of the Greek word for six (ἕξ hex) and the Greek word angle or corner (γωνία, gonía). six. angle. hexagon.
The sum of the the angles of a hexagon is 720 degrees.
Hexagons are very efficient.
It has been hypothesized since ancient times that hexagons could tile the plane more efficiently than any other shape, offering more space for surface area than a square or triangle. This mathematical conundrum (ie, “The Honeycomb Conjecture”) was proven true in 1999 - 16 years ago. That means it took a while. The shape has a beautiful simplicity, but its nature is so complex. What makes a hexagon so efficient?
Of the three regular polygons that tessellate naturally (meaning, they interlock without space left over on a plane), the hexagon is the most efficient, after the triangle and the square. You can find it tessellating naturally on our concrete coasters.
The hexagon plays an important role in nature and society.
Lets think of this: If you were to build a freestanding room, and wanted to make sure it contained as much space as possible, you would make a circular room. A circular room will contain the most space for a given wall. Once circles are fit together however, they are not so efficient - they leave wasted space and unused crevices between them. Hexagons on the other hand, are team players. When they are tiled together, you have the most efficient way to tile the plane, providing the most area for the lines and angles used.
Speaking of team players…
Bees are the ultimate team players. Making the wax for the walls of a honeycomb is TONS of work for a bee. A bee, in its entire lifetime, will produce 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey. In a year, a hive will create about 200 lbs. of honey. So, they really need to work together to make this happen. Bees construct circular deposits of wax. When they form millions together, they naturally fold to stack and become perfect hexagons. The hexagonal walls enclose the largest possible area, and waste no space between them. This allows bees to make as much honey as possible, with as little space as possible.
Hexagons are a tiny piece of the big picture
Amazingly, scientists are discovering that hexagons are found in our most elementary molecules. The fullerene, first discovered in 1985, resembles a soccer ball, made of hexagons and pentagons. It’s existence was elusive for a long time - it is actually an elementary carbon molecule. The shape captures the imaginations of scientists and artists alike.
The fullerene was named after Buckminster Fuller, a pioneering architect who utilized hexagons to create Geodesic domes (like Epcot in Disney World and the biodome in Montreal). Geodesic domes are still explored as a way to create super-efficient and affordable shelter. Similarly, the molecule unleashes a bounty of possibilities in scientific research. It’s elongated relative, the nanotube, is made of tons of tiny hexagons.
When soap bubbles cluster, they tend to form hexagons. Bubbles are all about compromise. When one bubble meets another, they immediately form a wall, in attempts to minimize surface area. Even in larger, complex soap bubble scenarios (like foam) bubbles will always meet at a 120º angle. There’s something to think about in the shower.
The hexagon is hyper-sophisticated. Its elegant. it is futuristic and innovative. It is simple and classic. It contains unforeseen possibilities and certain efficiency. It can create innovative futuristic architectures, and simple beautiful designs. Sometimes it can do both at the same time. We are interested in simple beautiful design. Who knows where hexagons will take us?