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A Wicked Walk in a Circle

text: Maarten Delbeke – 17.2.2020
image: Étienne-Louis Boullée, Cénotaphe for Newton, design 1784

At a round table – as Maarten Delbeke explains at the beginning of his essay by referring to a 19th century satire by Anthony Trollope – everyone is equal and of unclear social status. Moreover, the round table is also a closed form that establishes an inward-looking circle. With this image, Maarten Delbeke explains why the circle became a paradigm of perfection that is rooted in the long tradition of classicism. As other authors have also done, he makes reference to Palladio’s Villa Rotonda and Boullée’s Cenotaph for Newton [1784]. With this knowledge, the close connection between circle, sphere and the various cosmological ideas associated with it becomes readily apparent. And it is precisely for this reason that the circle engenders a certain ambivalence among architects. When looking at recent new buildings with a circular footprint, such as Norman Foster’s Headquarters for Apple in Cupertino [2017], the circle is no longer a symbol for God but has become a symbol to represent the power of a brand. 

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