Tessellated Pavement

March 29, 2023

Whoever says that nature doesn’t do straight lines has clearly never been to the Tessellated Pavement.

At the site of this unusual geological phenomenon (on Tasmania’s southeastern coastline), nature has gone about forming plenty of straight lines for millennia, along with geometric steps and a strange eroded grid of what look like cut blocks of stone.

On a recent trip to Tasmania, we had to make a pilgrimage to see these improbable formations that just don’t seem to belong on a natural coastline – where patterns of fractal geometry normally rule.

The ambiguity of this seemingly dislocated geometry is amplified in the steps that occur at a couple of points on the sides of platforms (as shown below). Admittedly, I suspect that they might not pass a building inspection due to slightly irregular riser depths, but other than that, it all seems to meet the Building Code.

I have often joked that an appropriate title for a book about rare plants might be “You’re Looking the Wrong Way”, after an incident years ago when a bogan shouted those words out of a ute at me in Ahipara – as I faced my camera in the opposite direction of the waves that are the subject of most people’s interest at Tauroa Point (and towards a native hibiscus).

In the pantheon of comments yelled from car windows, that incident was both particularly funny and on the tame end of things.

When searching for images of the Tessellated Pavement before our visit, I was reminded of how I’m more interested in looking the “wrong way” when visiting such places (in this case, straight down at the ground) – as the sea is a bit-part player in the images presented herein.

The part that daily deposition of salt on the intertidal zone plays in forming the joints is interesting, for the variation in the type of joint – with some raised above the platform, and others etched down into the stone (the latter being the primary type shown within this journal entry).

We won’t get into detail about this here, as it is more fulsomely explained elsewhere, but the role that salt exercises as an agent in the patterning of these platforms exhibits parallels with traditional stoneworking methods in which water and freezing/thawing patterns are manipulated (often by drilling) to cleave straight-sided blocks from rock formations.

As with built environments, proportion is a significant factor in how this reads in an aesthetic sense (which is largely the lens through which we observed this place). Most of the lines of ‘blocks’ or ’tiles’ (the latter relates directly to tessellation in an etymological sense) were between 100mm and 350mm wide in the zone that we observed closely – lending a human scale to it.

The strange quality that sharply differentiates this small length of coastal fringe from the surrounding landscape reminded us of atypical stonework at Korean shrines/temples that Hélène Binet recorded beautifully in a book that sits within our studio – compositions that also seem to occupy a no-man’s land between architecture and nature.