Campus & Community

Drawing maps across disciplines

6 min read

Adam Storeygard explores the shapes of things

Adam Storeygard concentrated in physics, but he’s roamed extensively in the visual arts and the history and culture of Asia, Africa, and Europe. (Staff photo by Jon Chase)

When Adam Storeygard was a child, he imagined his back yard as a golf course. He drew a map of the recontoured landscape, Magic Marker lines running crazily, boldly, about the paper. On family vacations, he pored over road maps, directing his parents from the backseat of the car. When he was a teenager, he won the Massachusetts National Geography Bee, and he placed 11th nationwide out of 6 million participants. He drew, and still draws, maps from memory, the shapes of the American states eerily accurate, his maps of Africa admittedly shakier, but he numbers the African countries, from 1 to upwards of 50, to school his memory.

“They can be beautiful objects,” he says of maps. “They can display tremendous information in a way that you can’t get in other forms. And some of it is curiosity – knowing about places I’ve never been, or have been, and trying to imagine myself there. It’s a constructive way to let the mind wander.”

Storeygard likes to wander. He’s traveled three times to Europe, made two trips to the northern Rockies and the American Southwest, and he has more travels in his near future. In a broad sense, he’s an explorer.

“I like knowing where I am,” he says, “but I also like being lost.” He concentrated in physics at Harvard, but he’s roamed extensively in the visual arts and the history and culture of Asia, Africa, and Europe. He runs far afield for Leverett House, playing almost every intramural sport available.

He’s all over maps, and all over the map, you might say. Maps smack of discipline and adventure at once, they are both icons of order and keys to transcending one’s boundaries. They show us simultaneously variety and the illusion of a whole.

Travels with Storeygard

Variation and order. The pearl-lined chambers in a nautilus shell spiral outward in progressively larger sizes described by the ratio .618. The Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical sequence in which each successive number is the sum of the two preceding numbers, also demonstrates this ratio. Storeygard talks excitedly about these things, based on three courses he took with Arthur Loeb, senior lecturer on visual and environmental studies, on the mathematical principles behind concepts in design.

“I’ve never been able to pick between the humanities and the sciences and the social sciences,” Storeygard says. “One of the things that was so neat about Loeb’s courses is that he draws together art and math and biology and architecture.”

Travel with Storeygard, for a minute.

“One of the forms associated with the golden ratio [.618] is the golden triangle,” Storeygard says. He sketches quickly – an isoceles triangle whose short and long sides are related by .618. Now view the short side as the new long side of a similar triangle, nested within the original triangle. Repeat that until you have six triangles, and a spiral composed of the apexes of those triangles, a curl that moves within and around the original triangle.

Storeygard decided to liberate this two-dimensional shape into three dimensions. “The most obvious orderly way to free the triangle from the plane is to fold it,” Storeygard wrote in an article that will soon be published in a scholarly art journal.

“I took this 2-D shape, this canonical shape, with various interior lines that were associated with it, and I decided to fold it into three dimensions along these lines,” Storeygard says. The resulting aluminum sculpture, a two-dimensional figure transcending its nature, was difficult to construct.

“I realized you can’t fold metal through itself,” he says. “When you deal with geometry, you talk a lot about intersecting planes, but when you have two pieces of metal, they don’t intersect. That’s one of the main ideas of Loeb’s course, that when you try to make things, space sort of fights you back.”

Space fights you back

When Storeygard was 7, he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder accompanied by involuntary motor and vocal tics.

“I had some subvocalizations, saying things under my breath, which luckily never got too loud,” Storeygard says, “and things like shoulder shrugging, dragging my toes on the floor, and what they call dipping.” He stands and demonstrates, shifting his weight from one leg to the other when he walks. “That occasionally still happens.”

Because his tics interfered with writing or typing, he took spelling tests by tape recorder and dictated his papers to his mother up until ninth grade. “My mouth is full of words,” he told his mother when he was in sixth grade, referring to his hand’s inability to keep up with his thoughts. Medication helped regulate his symptoms, though it also made him fall asleep “in about a class a day” by the time he was in high school. By his senior year in high school, he was able to stop taking medication, but the symptoms still exist, to some degree.

“My friends were very understanding about it,” Storeygard says. “I had the very occasional case of being made fun of, but more so, I think, out of misunderstanding.”

Storeygard tends to think of things visually, and whether this is related to Tourette’s is uncertain. He pictures the year as shaped like a running track; when he’s tired or disoriented, he’ll picture “June” or whichever month he is in in an atypical segment of the running track. He associates “left” with darkness and “right” with brightness.

Whatever its origin, Storeygard’s way of viewing the world has won him a Harvard-Cambridge Scholarship for next year; he’ll study for his master’s degree in the geography department of Cambridge University, England, with a focus on how developing countries deal with environmental problems. The scholarship encourages recipients to travel, and Storeygard has already proposed for his master’s thesis a study of infrastructure in Lagos, Nigeria.

“I’ve thought a lot about working in government,” he says, “and I think a lot of the problems the government deals with can be characterized spatially. Geography as a lens, or spatial thinking as a lens for thinking about problems is an important one.”