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Buildings, geometries and algebraic groups study group VI

November 16, 2009

This week Alice is leading the discussion and the topic is buildings.

We begin with an example. Let W=S_4 and S=\{(12),(13),(34)\}. Also let V be a 4-dimensional vector space with basis e_1,e_2,e_3,e_4. We can form a tetrahedron with vertices labelled by \langle e_1\rangle,\ldots,\langle e_4\rangle. We place vertices at the midpoint of each edge (these each represent the 2-dimensional subspace spanned by the two 1-spaces at either end of the edge) and a vertex at the midpoint of each face (these represent the 3-spaces spanned by the three 1-spaces at each corner of the face). This gives us a simplicial complex whose 0-simplices are the vertices, the 1-simplices are the lines between 0-simplices, and the 2-simplices are the parts of faces surrounded by the 1-simplices. Now W acts on V by permuting the basis elements. Let I be the 2-simplex surrounded by the vertices \langle e_1\rangle,\langle e_1,e_2\rangle,\langle e_1,e_2,e_3\rangle. We can associate each of these three vertices with the subgroup of W generated by the two elements of S which fix the associated subspace. That is, \langle e_1\rangle is associated with \langle (23),(34)\rangle, \langle e_1,e_2\rangle is associated with \langle (12),(34)\rangle  and \langle e_1,e_2,e_3\rangle is associated with \langle (12),(23)\rangle. The 1-simplices joining these vertices are associated with the intersections of the subgroups associated with the end vertices, while we associate I with the identity subgroup. Now for each other simplex we can associate a coset of the appropriate simplex in I.

In general, given a Coxeter system (W,S) we can form the Coxeter complex which is the poset on the set \{\langle S'\rangle w\mid S'\subseteq S,w\in W\} and B\leqslant A if and only if A\subseteq B. There was much discussion as to whether or not S needs to be a simple system but this wasn’t resolved.

A building is a simplicial complex \mathcal{B} which can be expressed as a union of subcomplexes \mathcal{A}, called apartments, such that

  • (B0) each apartment is a Coxeter complex;
  • (B1) for any pair of simplices A,B there exists an apartment \Sigma\in\mathcal{A}  containing both;
  • (B2) If \Sigma,\Sigma'\in\mathcal{A} both contain simplices A,B then there is an isomorphism \Sigma\rightarrow\Sigma' fixing A and B pointwise.

Taking A,B=\varnothing and applying (B2) implies that all apartments are isomorphic.

A chamber in the building is a maximal simplex of \mathcal{B} (where by maximal we do not mean the whole complex).

We say a simplicial complex is thick if every codimension 1 simplex (that is codimension 1 in a chamber) is in at least three chambers.

Theorem If a simplicial complex is thick and contains a union of subcomplexes \mathcal{A} satisfying (B1) and (B2) then (B0) holds, that is, we have a building.

In fact we only need to check that (B1) and (B2) hold for the chambers.

Given a building, we can construct a chamber system (see a previous week’s post)

Equally, we could define a building to be a chamber system which can be expressed as a union of sub-chamber systems \mathcal{A} satisfying

  • (B0) each apartment is a Coxeter complex
  • (B1) for any pair of chambers A,B there exists an apartment \Sigma\in\mathcal{A}  containing both
  • (B2) If \Sigma,\Sigma'\in\mathcal{A} both contain chambers A,B then there is an isomorphism \Sigma\rightarrow\Sigma' fixing A and B.

A chamber system is called thick if every equivalence class has size at least 3.

The chamber system we get from the Fano plane is drawn below, where each vertex is a chamber and red lines mean the chambers differ by a point, while blue lines mean they differ by a line.


An apartment in this chamber system is shown below.


Given a building whose apartments are isomorphic to the Coxeter complex (W,S) we can define a W-distance on the chambers. Given any two chambers c,d, we know from (B1) that there is an apartment A, containing both c and d which correspond to elements  x,y respectively of W. Then \delta_A(c,d)=yx^{-1}.  This is well defined, for if c,d also lie in the apartment A’,  by axiom (B2) there is an isomorphism from A to A’ fixing c and d and so \delta_A(c,d)=\delta_{A'}(c,d).

Going back to the Fano plane example, each apartment is isomorphic to the Coxeter complex for (S_3, \{(12),(23)\}). Letting s_1=(12) denote differing by a point and s_2=(23) denote differing by a line we can look at the W-distance of two chambers. We take two chambers c,d having no line in common but for which the point of c is the point at the bottom left  corner and the point of d is in the middle of the opposite side of the usual drawing of the Fano plane.

fanoplaneThen using the apartment containing c and d which goes around the bottom  we get \delta(c,d)=s_1s_2s_1 while taking the which goes through the middle  we get \delta(c,d)=s_2s_1s_2. Since s_2s_1s_2=s_1s_2s_1 the W-distances are equal despite taking different apartments.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2009 8:10 am

    I don’t think your Coxeter system (W,S) needs to be simple (I’m reading simple as equivalent to irreducible), and that the only assumption on (W,S) that you want to make is that S is a finite set (at least this is the assumption of Abramenko and Brown’s book “Buildings”).

    But it looks like for a reducible Coxeter system, the corresponding complex will just be the product of the complexes for the irreducible components, so you’re not really going to lose anything by restricting to the irreducible case.

    • Michael Giudici permalink
      November 19, 2009 9:04 am

      Hi Peter,

      By simple I meant that when look at the corresponding root system, the roots you obtain form a set of simple roots, that is, a minimal spanning set such that all other roots are a linear combination of the simple roots such that the coefficients are either all positive or all negative.

      For example, if W=S_n if you take S to the set of all transpositions you are likely to get a different complex to the one you would get it you take S to be the transpositions (12), (23), .. (n-1,n)

      • Michael Giudici permalink
        November 19, 2009 5:14 pm

        I have sorted out what we needed/meant. We had overlooked an important subtlety between the definition of a Coxeter group and the definition of a reflection group as a group generated by a set of reflections.

        A Coxeter system (W,S) is a group W with subset S of involutions and if for each s_i,s_j\in S we let m_{ij} be the order of s_is_j then W is the group defined by the presentation \langle S\mid (s_is_j)^{m_{ij}}=1\rangle, where we only use those m_{ij} which are finite. In particular, since W is defined by this presentation, S must be a minimal generating set and if we look at the corresponding root system when represented as a reflection group we do indeed get a simple system of roots.

        In the case of symmetric groups which I mentioned earlier, (S_3, \{(12),(23)\}) is a Coxeter system for if we let s_1=(12) and s_2=(23) then S_3 is defined by the presentation \langle s_1,s_2\mid s_1^2=s_2^2=(s_1s_2)^3\rangle. Now if we let s_3=(13) then S_3=\langle s_1,s_2,s_3\rangle and both s_1s_3 and s_2s_3 have order 3. However, S_3 is not defined by the presentation \langle s_1,s_2,s_3\mid s_1^2=s_2^2=s_3^2=(s_1s_2)^3=(s_1s_3)^3=(s_2s_3)^3\rangle. This presentation defines an infinite group and indeed, for the elements s_1,s_2,s_3 defined in S_3 we have the additional relation s_1s_2s_3=s_2. (In fact, this presentation defines the affine reflection group \tilde{A_2} which is isomorphic to \mathbb{Z}^2\rtimes S_3.) Hence (S_3, \{s_1,s_2,s_3\}) is not a Coxeter system.

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