Shapes of Imagination

Calculating in Coleridge's Magical Realm

By George Stiny

Visual calculating in shape grammars aligns with art and design, bridging the gap between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).





Visual calculating in shape grammars aligns with art and design, bridging the gap between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

In Shapes of Imagination, George Stiny runs visual calculating in shape grammars through art and design—incorporating Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetic imagination and Oscar Wilde's corollary to see things as they aren't. Many assume that calculating limits art and design to suit computers, but shape grammars rely on seeing to prove otherwise. Rules that change what they see extend calculating to overtake what computers can do, in logic and with data and learning. Shape grammars bridge the divide between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination, or esemplastic power”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

Stiny shows that calculating without seeing excludes art and design. Seeing is key for calculating to augment creative activity with aesthetic insight and value. Shape grammars go by appearances, in a full-fledged aesthetic enterprise for the inconstant eye; they answer the question of what calculating would be like if Turing and von Neumann were artists instead of logicians. Art and design are calculating in all their splendid detail.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262544139 248 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 302 b&w illus.


  • Shapes of Imagination is a pleasure to read. Stiny wonderfully draws on Coleridge's Magical Realm to persuade us that looking at everything through symbolic glasses is not only strongly limiting, but also entirely unnecessary.”

    Rudi Stouffs

    Dean's Chair Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, Department of Architecture

  • “Stiny exploits ambiguity in his formidable shape grammar formalism—melding Coleridge's imagination and Oscar Wilde's critical spirit in a wondrously far-reaching account of shape grammars in art and design. Shapes of Imagination is pure delight.”

    Athanassios Economou

    Professor of Architecture and Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Shapes of Imagination is a seminal account of visual calculating that supersedes symbols. Calculating with rules in Stiny's shape grammars creatively puts arts and design front and center.”

    Alan de Pennington OBE, PhD

    Emeritus Professor, University of Leeds