191Os - NATURE


In 1912 Alfred Wegener proposed a hypothesis that around 250 million years ago the continents were joined together as one supercontinent called Pangea. If you look at a map of the world today, you can see that by twisting and turning, they can all be made to fit together again, a bit like a puzzle. For thousands of years, patterns have been created through the repetition and fitting together of shapes in a process called tessellation – the finished product looks like a sort of jigsaw.

Tessellation – or tiling - is the continued repetition of a geometric figure with no space in between. Polygons are particularly easy to work with and tessellate because their sides are a perfect match for each other. For example, a hexagon can have six hexagons surrounding it without overlap or spaces in between. This is known as regular tessellation. By mixing two or more shapes together and repeating the pattern, an irregular tessellation can be achieved. For the really adventurous, curves can be introduced!

Tessellation can be seen and discovered throughout history and across cultures. Physical tessellations made from coloured tiles of square or regular shape were often stuck together to create astonishing patterns. There are many examples of tessellation in Ancient Rome, in Islamic art and in modern buildings. The steel and glass Gherkin in London shares these beautiful mathematical designs with ancient monuments such as the Blue mosque in Istanbul, the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the ruins of Pompeii. Commonly today, decorative tiles are used in the home as water resistant hard floor or wall coverings. In the 20th Century, the work of the artist M. C. Escher often made use of tessellation to create a pleasing geometrical effect.

The land mass of our planet is totally irregular in shape and it took quite a bit of imagination and vision from Mr Wegener to conceive the idea that it all used to fit together. Shapes that are exactly the same size and shape are called congruent shapes and there were none of these for Mr Wegener to work with!

Did you know?

Tessellations can also be seen throughout nature although they are not usually geometrically accurate, for example in the hexagonal cells found in honeycombs (which are 3D!), the patterns of snakeskin and tortoiseshell, and fruit skin such as pineapple.

Your Challenge:

Your challenge is to produce a tessellated pattern suitable for decorating a wall or floor. Use at least an A4 sized sheet of paper to show your pattern.


  • Try and include two different shapes and lots of different colours.
  • Describe the location you have imagined for your design and why it would look fantastic there.
  • Explain what the pattern represents to you or where you found your inspiration.

Why not...

Make your pattern into a jigsaw? Or create a colouring sheet for a friend?