Piet Hein, a Danish polymath born in Copenhagen in 1905, possessed a remarkable range of talents as a scientist, mathematician, inventor, artist, designer, philosopher, and poet. Despite his exceptional intellect, Hein did not pursue a formal degree. He initially enrolled in philosophy courses at the Metropolitan School of Copenhagen but soon shifted his focus to art, studying at a private academy and subsequently at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. He later returned to Copenhagen to delve into the realms of philosophy and theoretical physics. Hein’s diverse educational background laid the foundation for his life’s work, which seamlessly blended art and science.
In the aftermath of World War II, Hein made a groundbreaking invention: the superellipse. This geometric figure, derived through mathematical exploration, combined elements of the ellipse and rectangle. Hein first employed the superellipse to solve a traffic problem at Stockholm’s Sergel’s Square by creating an elliptical roundabout. The distinctive oval shape quickly gained popularity among postwar Scandinavian architects and has since been widely embraced in buildings and urban planning across the globe, from Canada, Mexico, and the United States to France, Japan, and beyond.
Hein also integrated the superellipse into his industrial designs, including the notable Superellipse Tables (1968). These tables were created in collaboration with Swedish architect-designer Bruno Mathsson (1907-1988) and Danish architect-designer Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) for the renowned Danish manufacturer Fritz Hansen.