A 3D History of Circular Constructions

A concentric adventure to the centre of the circle

By Google Arts & Culture

BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London by Chris LeeCarnegie Hall

There is something appealing about the circle. The completeness of it, perhaps? But also the endless line that has no beginning, middle or end. Circles have been used in construction for thousands of years. But why does this shape reappear time and time again in building design?

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Stonehenge - UK

Perhaps the most famous circular structure of them all, Stonehenge dates to somewhere between 3000 and 2000 BCE. The exact purpose of its construction is unknown but archaeologists generally agree that it was used as sacred site, with ritualistic practice and burials carried out.

The exact construction methods remain a mystery too, as no written records were kept by the society that built it. But the stones were carefully placed to have astrological significance. With some standing a massive 4m tall and weighing up to 25 tons, this was no mean feat. 

Mongolian ger, 1800, From the collection of: The National Museum of Mongolia
Top Euro (Bri-E) London Halls Albert Hall, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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More examples of circular design from around the world.

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Estadio Azteca

Estadio Azteca - Mexico City

As well as ritualistic reasons, building in the round has huge benefits in terms of allowing spectators a view of any central action. Another major reason why circles or ring shapes have proved to be such a popular design. Estadio Azteca is perhaps one of the best known examples.

The only stadium to have hosted two FIFA World Cup finals, this legendary construction accommodates 88,000 spectators. The proximity of the stands to the playing surface and steeply banked seating allow fans an exceptional view of any action on the field. 

Ralph Crane, 1962-04, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
St. Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz, Herbert Mason, 1940-12-31, From the collection of: St. Paul's Cathedral
The Round Temple, Rome, Tommaso Cuccioni, about 1858, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Circles and rings come in many shapes, sizes, and styles.

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Cathedral of Brasilia

Brasilia Cathedral - Brasilia, Brazil

Designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, the man responsible for much of this iconic purpose built capital city, Brasilia Cathedral was completed in 1970. The circular design allows light to enter from all sides and plays with the classic nave design of cathedrals around the world. 

The concrete structure is based round 16 columns, which reach upwards and appear to be opening towards the heavens. The building was one of the world's first great modern places of worship, re-establishing the circle in Western religious design.  

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa - Pisa, Italy

Circular construction also adds strength, especially when building at height. One of the world's most iconic round towers can be found at Pisa in Italy, and while the infamous lean is perhaps the biggest talking point, the round design also sets the building apart. 

Six levels of external loggias ring the outside of the building, offering visitors 360˚ views of the surrounding countryside, at least before the building started to lean and access was restricted. 

Bra Silia (1961) by Dmitri KesselLIFE Photo Collection

Want to know more?

If you would like to explore the design and construction of some of the world's great religious sites, you can discover more here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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