Shaping a business

Local entrepreneur finds success in art, science and building things

The team at Secular Geometry (from left): Jordan Layman, Carly Santa and Nathan Bates.

The team at Secular Geometry (from left): Jordan Layman, Carly Santa and Nathan Bates.

Photo courtesy of Secular Geometry

One of the more distinct features of the ever-evolving, Mediterranean- resort-themed grounds of In Motion Fitness is the corner bell tower that overlooks the outdoor pool area. And recently, observant gym members may have noticed that there’s been a glowing new addition to the belfry.

It isn’t a bell. And it’s not a disco ball, as some have guessed. It is a pentagonal icositetrahedron. Which is to say, it’s a 24-faced geometric sculpture. And it’s a behemoth, 4 feet across, featuring more than 300 programmable LED lights that blink and shift colors, projecting ornate patterns inside and signaling passersby through the tower’s windows.

The sculpture, titled “Unexpected Answers,” was designed by Chico artist/Web developer Jordan Layman (in collaboration with Nashville artist Adelord Laremee) and built by Layman’s company, Secular Geometry. A co-founder of the local Idea Fabrication Labs maker space, Layman started Secular Geometry nearly three years ago to work on his coding skills—specifically LED systems—and the application of those skills in his designs has grown into a bustling lantern sculpture business.

“My take on it was, I really just wanted to program something,” he said. “In the whole process, I got completely swept away from that.”

Layman has since brought on two builders, Carly Santa and Nathan Bates, to help keep up with projects, including a recent work commissioned for the Sonic Bloom music/arts festival near Denver.

The In Motion project was commissioned by the gym’s owner, Carl Sommer, and is based on a smaller model the trio had built previously, which at the time was the biggest project they had worked on. The sculpture designed for the bell tower is more than twice as large.

“My least favorite part of the project was when we realized it wouldn’t fit through any of the doors at [In Motion],” Layman said. “We had to take out the largest window and bring it up with a boom lift.”

Layman does the design work, solo or in collaboration with others, while Santa and Bates do the building. The intricate shapes and patterns are pieced together on the computer, then laser-cut into wood that’s painted white and fitted with the programmed LED light systems.

Layman said he gets his ideas for shapes—pentagons, deltoidal hexecontahedrons, rhombic triacontahedrons—from Wikipedia or other online databases. He vigorously denies being obsessed with shapes, however.

“The whole thing is kind of a joke,” he said. “The whole Secular Geometry title is a like a troll on the modern festival-hippie fixation with geometric patterns as some holy grail to understanding the universe. And I’m not going to comment on whether that is a legitimate scientific reality, but it’s the holier-than-thou fixation on it that we are trolling.”

For her part, Santa said she’s learned a lot working for the company.

“I wasn’t really an artist or much of a carpenter before I met Jordan,” she said. “It took me significantly longer to learn how to build them than Nate, with his experience. But it brought me into the lab. … It brought me into the community and showed me I could do more in life than what I had thought I could do.”

And that’s part of the Idea Fab Labs mission, creating a community where skills can be taught and groomed. Layman said Secular Geometry was meant to showcase the lab and act as evidence that its members can create a successful business from things they do there.

“As much as I want to make cool things and play with toys, it’s about going through this culture that we have built,” Layman said. “The maker movement here in town, we want people who have these experiences to feel empowered to make things, build things, program things and communicate about them and work on things together.”