Fractal Tree Archway

Skagit Valley College
Mount Vernon, WA

Funding Source: Washington State Arts Commission & Skagit Valley College

"I am fascinated by the branching structure of trees, found throughout nature, by the many roles of trees in ecosystems, and by their symbolic, psychological and space-creating significance to humans."

"The branching of trees, and of other natural systems such as rivers and blood vessels, is a fundamental organizing principle in nature that fascinates me. Such branching structures are also fractals, a mathematical concept that also underlies many forms in nature. These particular trees are mathematically generated fractals: each part of the tree is an identical copy of the other parts, scaled and rotated in space."

To design the trees Sorey devised a modeling algorithm that allowed him to experiment with fractal branching patterns and see the results in a 3-D computer model. He tested different branch lengths, branching angles, and scale factors to see which ones resulted in a tree form that appeared natural, and that provided a canopy that would form a pleasing archway across the sixteen-foot sidewalk.

Once the fractal pattern was decided, Sorey used software of his own invention to calculate the sizes and shapes of individual pieces that would be cut and assembled to build the actual trees in stainless steel.

Installed in 2010, Fractal Tree Archway creates an arched entry space for both the new Angst Hall Health Sciences Building and the central quadrangle of the Skagit Valley College campus. Visible from College Way, the the artwork's scale is large enough to complement the building. The space between the trees and under their canopy is of pedestrian scale so the artwork serves as a bridge between the size of a person and the monumental scale of the building.