The enclosing boundary of a circle

Ariadna Perich, Barcelona

Sometimes it is necessary to talk about the obvious, because we have a tendency to forget it. One of the first things we observe in this picture is the artificial and circular shape on the peninsula. We know it is an architectural object; it has interiority, it defines a space and gives orientation.
Even though the building adopts a very abstract and preconceived figure, it seems to have a balanced relationship with its context. Why?
The circumference, by definition, is the perimeter of a circular area and it automatically defines an interior space in opposition to an exterior one. We know it is a special kind of perimeter; it embodies a strong sense of continuity that together with its compactness and lack of edges makes it a very autonomous shape for an object, to some extent incapable of adapting in certain surroundings.
This is not the case with the following anonymous construction, where this objective form, far for being an object interposed into the landscape, is a traditional and optimized response to it. The semi-nomad villages of Karamajong are marvellous circular enclosures that define interiors in the desert. The houses and granaries inside (the parts) are small versions of the whole (the community) with the complement of a roof.

Photograph of a nomad village in Uganda (Karamajong) taken by Aldo van Eyck in one of his trips to Africa during the fifties.

The resonance between the image from this issue and this one of the vernacular architectural tradition is undeniable and allows us to understand and visualize that some architectural elements and notions remain invariable through time.

Now, if we observe the selected image again, we can see that there is an analogy between the physical context where the construction is located, a piece of land surrounded by water on three sides but connected to the mainland (peninsula), and the building itself as a circle. The architecture in that specific site accentuates and emphasizes the inner characteristics of the place; the formal structure of the building reproduces the one of the peninsula, and as a result it creates an interior within a pre-existing one, turning the centre point of the site into a measurable space.

Both objects then (natural and artificial) are enclosures, they limit the space horizontally and at the same time create a strong relation with the vertical dimension.

We could also say that the construction of the building, by redefining the centre of the site, has again fixed and grounded the place. As an act of foundation, the circumference with a habitable thickness, created a new axis mundi with a new meaning attached to it.

In an amazing scene from Wings of Desire (1) , we see Marion, the circus trapeze artist from the film, sitting right in the middle of a circular mound of sand, the remains of the circus arena, that had been her “home” for a long time. In that temporary enclosure, she sits and thinks: “I couldn’t say who I am. I don’t have the slightest idea. I have no roots, no story, no country, and I like it that way. I’m here, I’m free. I can imagine anything. Everything’s possible. I only have to lift my eyes, and once again I become the world.”

Maybe it is a coincidence, maybe not, but there is no form more objective than the circle to physically express what she is experiencing. The circle is universal, it doesn’t belong to anywhere in particular, like Marion. Something of this is present in the building on the peninsula. Being there is also to have an experience that belongs to all of us, and to architecture.

Screenshot from Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire (Der himmel über Berlin).

(1) Wim WENDERS, “Der himmel über Berlin”, 1987. Solveig Dommartin is the actress who plays the role of Marion.