Circles Yesterday’s post concerning a Round, Edgeless Future pressed me into remembering how we are surrounded by circles but few of us realize their power.

Chains of events also create circles but even fewer of us are able to forge the connections to complete the meaning.

A circle is the original conundrum: What indicates everything and nothing at the same time?

We ride on circles. We hold hands and create two joined circles.

Circles remind us of who we are and where we began.

A droplet of rain falls from a circle-of-the-sun sky and feeds the land below in rippling circles.

Circles

Circles provide joined arcs between the living and the progression of time.

Circles

Circles humble us by joining swings of the pendulum into a recognizable shape and by providing us with the ominous sense of an unforgiving continuity in the inevitability of our demise and the wonder of the unknown.

Circles

Circles are the most imitated shape the body craves to recreate alone, together and in masses.

Circles

The covenants of history warn us against the power of abused circles and of the responsibility to face our fears without edges or points or angles from which to hide from the worst of us.

Circles

CirclesA circle is the only shape we can create with one hand.

As a child, a circle is the first shape we draw in the sand with a finger in the first chase at perfection.

A circle is formed by two arms making a hug. A circle joins us to each other by looking backward into history and forward into the future.

Many believe a circle has a beginning and an end only when creating it and breaking it — but we haven’t really created a circle until there is no start or finish to the form.

Circles are perfect compasses of time and everlasting containers of hope that cannot be easily broken.

Circles are the eyes, the nipples and the straight-on tools of human reproduction — as one circle enters another — to combine the ends in the regeneration of a new, unchained, circle of desire for immortality.

29 Comments

  1. The circle is a pleasing shape because there is no beginning and no end. It is a nice representation of immortality and love.
    I’m thinking maybe the opposite of a circle is the triangle?
    While future architects look to circles for inspiration, could there have been some psychological ploy when architects designed a triangular prison? Or when engineers design triangular warplanes — such as the Aurora or Stealth bombers? Would these things be as fearsome if they were round?
    Could it be that humans are instinctively attracted to curves, but are subconsciously jolted by sharp curves?

  2. Hi Chris!
    I thought the opposite of a circle was a square?
    I agree an unbroken circle is a beautiful thing. It is the yin and the yang, the empty and the full, the life and the death of us.
    How many popular songs have been written about circles?
    Have there been any popular songs written about rectangles?
    😀
    A triangle is the perfect shape for killing and punishment. You need a sharp, angular point — and not just a corner — for piercing flesh. Arrows, ancient scalpels, knives and cluster bombs are all examples of the triangle perfected as an instrument of killing.
    Our traffic warning signs are yellow — the color of cowards — and triangular. So in one semiotic you have the weak threatened with piercing. It’s quite wonderful!

  3. Hi David,
    While squares and rectangles might be opposites, the emotional differences generated by circles and triangles are opposites.
    Rectangles are harmless shapes that make us think of houses, cereal boxes, skyscrapers, and other nice things.

  4. I began thinking about the perceived “perfection” of the circular shape with the post yesterday regarding the future of architecture. Perhaps today’s design students are so obsessed with an edgeless future because we tend to think of a circle as the only perfect and limitless shape. How better to achieve design perfection than by starting with a circle?

  5. Hi Emily!
    I was thinking the same thing. The circle is the perfect form. Then the question becomes — is that all there is? Are there no more shapes or forms for discovery?
    Is our future determined by our pre-existing past? Do we want our future cities to be dedicated to perfecting ancient forms?
    Virtual buildings are waiting to be discovered with curtains of air for walls and foundations of crystal!

  6. Hi Nicola!
    Ah! Yes! The round table and the planets! Lovely!
    I meant to ask everyone to post their favorite circles — I’m glad you mentioned yours!
    I love the “Windmill” lyrics! Right on point and they spin and rock and coalesce into something ultimately meaningful.
    It’s also interesting how the hands can individually form circles apart or together, and to bind the hands you must use circles to do it — be it another hand, chains, rope or handcuffs. You fight circles with circles!

  7. When I think about the future of design, I tend to think more in terms of structural composition than shape. What sorts of materials will we begin to utilize in their construction? But, I suppose these thoughts would be more appropriately posted to yesterday’s blog!
    As for the triangle, I regard this shape not as the opposite of a circle but as the next closest shape to a circle. Each line segment that creates a side of the triangle is connected to both of the other line segments. To me, the direct connection of all the sides of the triangle makes this shape the closest to the “limitlessness” of the circle.

  8. Hey Emily!
    Ummm… yeah… where were you yesterday?!!
    :mrgreen:
    What sorts of materials do you see being used to build the places of the future? Will everything be totally pre-fab?
    Are you assuming all sides of the triangle are the same length?

  9. Circles have a rich history from honoring the sun and moon to being the organizational tool for ancient rituals. The group forms the circle and the point of interest stands in the middle. A circle is fine for moving ’round dancing and for squeezing in menacingly. Powerful things, those.

  10. Chris!
    I wanted to talk about roundabouts in the post but I couldn’t think of the term! I had “Dupont Circle” in D.C. on my brain all morning and couldn’t think of “roundabout!” Huzzah! Thanks for that!
    Are roundabouts safer than going around the block? A roundabout was installed in Lincoln, NE a few years ago and people hated it but the intersection didn’t kill as many people… so the circle was a good thing.
    Now that Triangle! Sheesh! It looks like a dagger from space!
    I miss my car! There’s no reason to have one in NYC and Jersey City, though, because public transportation is cheaper and faster than getting their on your own.

  11. Hi David,
    The nice thing about roundabouts is that people don’t have to come to a complete stop and figure out who has the right-of-way as they do at four way stops.
    Wikipedia says roundabouts are safer:

    Roundabouts are safer than both traffic circles and traditional intersections—having 40% fewer vehicle collisions, 80% fewer injuries and 90% fewer serious injuries and fatalities (according to a study of a sampling of roundabouts in the United States, compared with the intersections they replaced).

    The “Five Points” intersection in South Bend is pretty rough because traffic has to be controlled from so many angles.

  12. Wonderful article. In ancient Egyptian sacred geometry the square represents man, the creative forces caught inside the walls of the physical. Could our aversion be to the acknowledgement of our perceived limitations? Our instinctive love of the circle; dreams of limitlessness. Does the circle remind us of our potential and the square remind us of our limitation?
    Yet the square also is the basis of the pyramid, which also represents man, striving always to go beyond the boundaries of his paradigms. Without the basis, however, the whole pyramid will collapse, so that creation is only posible within limitation. Perhaps we create to go beyond our limitation, but if we had no limitations, would we create, would we strive for the limitlessness the circle represent?

  13. Excellent comment, Sophia, and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    It’s interesting we choose to live in boxes and not circles. Is that humanity’s self-flagellation at work? Do we feel we don’t deserve to live in circles — except that is — in our undetermined, idealized future born in the 1950’s?

  14. Thank you, I am glad I discovered this site. Interesting question. In my opinion symbol and archetype reflects a prevailing state of consciousness. When did we actually begin to build predominantly square structures? If you go back into the Architectural history to Neolithic and so-called primitive societies across the world, the predominant formal structures were round, bee-hive shaped. The introduction of the square building seems to go hand in hand with the introduction of civilization, or more formerly developed societies.
    In evolutionary consciousness theories, the Oroborus represents the originative consciousness of the archaic periods. So as I see it, the introduction of the square building could have been both a practical solution – to fit more people into a smaller area, and at the same time a reflection of the prevailing consciousness. The more people crammed into a smaller area, the more rigid the laws and rules becomes out of necessity, as there is less tolerance for a margin of error. It is well known that the bigger a family the more strict the rules.

  15. Love your mind and comment, Sophia!
    When you build a structure by hand it is easier to make something round. Machines prefer edges and corners because straight cuts are easier to manufacture than curvy ones.
    Industrialization and building standards and houses and commercial structures grew taller and demanded squares-upon-squares.
    You can easily create a one-storey round house but can you build a 100-storey round building without using squares?