I'm part of two book clubs, of sorts. In one of these, which has two members, we are reading The Projective Cast by Robin Evans. We are reading the first chapter entitled 'perturbed circles' this week, which we will discuss in a second podcast. The chapter highlights the role of the circle in architecture, as symbol and model.
I was reminded upon reading it of Dick Tahta's quotation: "The symbol for a circle is a circle." Each circle we come across is like all other circles, ignoring scale and media, and viewing angle. The same could be said for all regular polyhedra, but not irregular ones, or the vast majority of non-geometrical objects.
How can we interpret the presence of circles in (religious) art and architecture? They are both symbolic and iconic, re-presenting the order of a perfect universe. But who or what is at the multiple centres of the universe thus depicted?
It is not that simple to locate the centre of a circle. Draw round something circular. How can you locate the centre?
The first step toward the investigation of the physical causes of the motions [of the planets] was that I should demonstrate that the focus of their eccentrics lies in no other place than the very centre of the body of the sun... It is incredible how much labour the moving powers constituted by this way of argument caused me [to give] false distances of the planets from the sun, irreconcilable with the observations, when I tried to work out the equations of the eccentric. This was not because the moving powers were wrongly invoked, but because I had forced them to tramp around in circles like donkeys in a mill, being bewitched by common opinion. Restrained by these fetters they could not do their work.
We are limited through our adherences to a given system, often 'bewitched by common opinion'.
In the article The plane-sphere project (MT 187), Istvan Lenart suggests that: "one-system mathematics [is] dead and un-teachable". Euclid has given us much, but how to remove the shackles?
Old Euclid drew a circle
On a sand-beach long ago.
He bounded and enclosed it
With angles thus and so.
His set of solemn greybeards
Nodded and argued much
Of arc and circumference,
Diameter and such.
A silent child stood by them
From morning until noon
Because they drew such charming
Round pictures of the moon.
Another opposite may be per-turbation, which comes from the latin per- (completely) and -turbare (disturb). Learning might be considered a fluctuation or a tension between the two. The title of Evans' first chapter give a sense of the tension that existed (between and across religion and science) at the time of the building of the Sant'Eligio. As he describes:
The circle had to be saved... because of the intellectual and aesthetic prejudice in favour of this figure.
I think Evans is suggesting that the presence of circles in architecture could be interpreted as an attempt to connect the real and ideal, to bring reassurance in troubled times via the calm certainty of the circle. I have a feeling that I have not comprehended all of what is contained in this chapter, some of the themes are slippery, I suspect intentionally so. What next, I wonder?