Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton, by Étienne-Louis Boullée
Today—March 14—is Pi Day, and an extra special one to boot. Waxing lyrically in the Register-Guard, reporter Mark Baker encouraged readers to make the most of the celebration of circles because today’s Pi Day is extra special.
Why? Mark explained how taking pi out to nine decimal places and converting it to a date and time, you come up with March 14, 2015 at 9:26 and 53 seconds. 3.141592653. The next one like it won’t happen again for 100 years. Of course, as an irrational number, pi does not possess a finite decimal representation, (1) so Pi Day is really just a celebration of the constant’s first few significant digits. Heck, some math geeks even celebrate Pi Approximation Day (July 22, since the fraction 22/7 is a common approximation of pi). No matter, Pi Day is a day to celebrate the transcendent, fantastic, and infinitely perfect: the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, true no matter what size the circle is.
Temple of Heaven, Beijing
As geometric motifs, circles or spheres have long fascinated architects. The circle is a universal symbol, alternately suggesting wholeness, timelessness, the infinite, the sun, and the cycle of life. It has no beginning or end. At the same time, the circle is a symbol of completion, boundary, and enclosure. Its antithesis is the square, which signifies materiality and the earthbound.
Humans have employed the powerful symbolism of the circle to great effect for millennia. The builders of circular or spherical buildings chose their shape to emphasize their importance or meaning. This was true whether the structure was modest in size and intent (as with a small home) or an immense and imposing edifice (as exemplified by some of history’s grandest structures).
Donato Bramante’s Tempietto, Rome
Because of their complete symmetry, round buildings form powerful centers, coercing other buildings and even the landscape to genuflect toward them. Like the sun, they possess substantial gravity, warping the fabric of spacetime. Circular buildings are special because they represent heavenly perfection. Indeed, architects have consciously used the geometry to connote the cosmos.
Yurt, Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (my photo)
Being a geeky architect, I’m marking Pi Day by celebrating the round, the globular, the spherical, and the rotund buildings we admire. I’ve gathered here pictures of just a few. They’re all special because their designers made them so.
Pi Day is also a good excuse to celebrate with something else circular, perhaps a certain fruit-filled round pastry, warm from the oven. Yum.
(1) According to Wikipedia, supercomputers have extended the decimal representation of pi to over 13.3 trillion digits.