Silvan Laan

The basic ideas of circle and square have been part of the human imagination since prehistoric times. Art and science would not be possible without them.

The rectangle is the default shape for the architectural plan. Our rooms are rectangular. Efficiency demands it, how could it be otherwise? There was a time, however, when the rectangular plan was not yet conceived or even conceivable. For the longest stretch of prehistoric time, the round plan was the universal standard for dwellings. Rather than determined by selective pressures from the environment, our changing use of form may be evidence of a gradual ripening of the human mind. This is the premise underlying a new theory of architectural form:

Architecture in Evolution: a Typology

"As psychological phenomena [mandalas] appear spontaneously in dreams, in certain states of conflict, and in cases of schizophrenia. Very frequently they contain a quaternity or a multiple of four, in the form of a cross, a star, an octagon, etc. In alchemy we can encounter this motif in the form of quadratura circuli. … The "squaring of the circle" is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness."

txt: C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.

"The campfire has been in the center of social life since the beginning of the time of man. Primordial man (Homo erectus) was already warming his body by the fire a good million years ago. Fire not only gave warmth and light, dried wet clothing, and cooked meat, but was also sacred and healing. It was the sun spirit or the heavenly fire that had taken up residence among the people. The ring of boulders that were placed around the fire were the original medicine wheel. The stone circle became the focus (in Latin, focus means fireplace) of the sacred. Later, in the Neolithic period, stone circles such as Stonehenge took on gigantic proportions."

txt: Claudia Müller-Ebeling et al., Witchcraft Medicine.

"Thus, in the habitation of the primitive peoples of the North American and North Asian Arctics we find a central post that is assimilated to the axis mundi, i.e., to the cosmic pillar or the world tree, which, as we saw, connect earth with heaven. In other words, cosmic symbolism is found in the very structure of the habitation. The house is an imago mundi. The sky is conceived as a vast tent supported by a central pillar; the tent pole or the central post of the house is assimilated to the Pillars of the World and is so named. This central pole or post has an important ritual role; the sacrifices in honor of the celestial Supreme Being are performed at the foot of it."

txt: Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion.

img: Linear Pottery house reconstruction, Archeon. Photo Hans Splinter.

img: Three-nave farmhouse, Frisian. S. J. Fockema Andreae et al., Duizend jaar bouwen in Nederland.

The early prototypes for the contemporary farmhouse, e.g. the Linear Pottery longhouses of Europe (c. 5000 BC), were composed of heavy timbers set in post-holes. After the columns were put in position, horizontal roof beams were presumably hoisted on top of them. A later development, the three-nave barn required the central row of columns to disappear, leaving the ridge beam floating. A further refinement was to complete mortise-and-tenon connections with the timber frame (the bent) in horizontal position, prior to raising it.

Unless stated otherwise, text and images by Silvan Laan. All rights reserved. Last modified 3/4/2021