4.2.5. Observatories, libraries and the internet

The observatory is probably the most typical and essential product of quadralectic architecture. Its function to observe (the universe) reaches into the heart of an eternal communication between the human being and the environment. Only the universe holds the keys to an understanding of our being on this earth. The observatory can be seen as a ‘real’ quadralectic building, which has to do with visibility in its most general sense.

Libraries do have a similar function as observatories, but their field of observance is directed to a man-made universe, consisting of books and papers. The buildings, which safeguard an artistic and intellectual heritage, do not necessarily reflect this task, but their function as a public building and caretaker of cultural goods make them well suited to bring some of its contents to light.

The World Wide Web (Internet) combines the functions of an observatory and library into one source of information, from the endless cosmos to the unknown boundaries of knowledge. The Internet, as a presentation of enlightenment, has its own architecture, which is not expressed in bricks and stones. The term ‘architecture’ symbolizes in this case the process of selecting paths in a network (routing). All types of mathematical procedures (algorithms) can be applied to determine the best path to a destination.

DijkstraThe Dutch mathematician Edsger Dijkstra (1930 – 2002) (left – photo: Wikipedia) pioneered in this subject as early as 1959, when he proposed a graph search algorithm that solved the single-source shortest path problem. His so-called ‘structured programming’ became a source of inspiration for further development.

The above-mentioned phases (types) of observation – given as observatory, library, and internet – and their associated type of architecture (either real or virtual) will now be placed in a quadralectic perspective. Four phases of observation (quadrants) are distinguished:

The first phase (I) consists of an invisible invisibility, an observational area without any architecture. This stage might initially be overlooked due to its very characteristics, but is of essential importance for the communication-as-a-whole. No sense of division could ever be developed without this conceptual terrain, which offers the playground to discovery.

The second phase (II) of the invisible visibility brings in the first efforts to discover the observable. All senses are used to chart the unknown. The initial types of observatories – as division choices in the mind – are for the first time materialized in a dynamic exploration environment. Ideas, derived from observations, are fed in the communication and contribute to the establishment of boundaries (facts).

The third phase (III) comprises the inventory process in the visible visibility of reality. Observations are placed in a division environment and valued accordingly. The outcome is a ‘library’ of information. This unity (‘building’) provides a storehouse of ‘facts’ gathered in the process of observation and act as a center of communication.

The fourth phase (IV) is the dynamic interplay of ‘library’ knowledge in the virtual world of a worldwide network, the internet. A visible invisibility, or a world which is too large to grab, is the main characteristic of this modern source of information. Architecture-as-a-disciple moved from the empirical into a language of mathematics, dealing with nodes (positions) and certain algorithms to calculate the shortest paths between source and target. Quadralectic architecture might be the very subject, which combines the ‘old’ architecture of bricks and mortar (III) with the ‘new’ architecture of nodes (IV), providing the optimal protocol for the journey through life.

The Horologion of Andronicus Cyrrhestes – better known as the ‘Tower of the Winds’ – in Athens was an early example a building used as an instrument (see  fig. 268). Each of the sides had a dial and on the top was a Triton, which indicated the direction of the wind. The building, which is still standing today, also contained a clepsydra or water clock and dated from the second century BC. The octagonal tower was created fairly late in the Greek cultural history (see fig. 74) when numerological symbolism (the octagonal connected with the element water) was well known. The Hellenistic Period (300 – 30 BC) included the last hundred and fifty years of the visible presence of Greece, which ended with the annexation by the Roman Empire in 146 BC. This period was elsewhere described as a ‘Late Renaissance’ in a comparison with the Egyptian cultural period.

The history of China as a cultural unit (see fig. 393) has a long line of observation and prediction. Observatory ruins and a ‘heavenly clockwork’ are known from the Han Dynasty. Chang Hêng (AD 78 – 142) was the Astronomer-Royal in the Later Han Dynasty. He was a great mathematician and engineer and the first to build a demonstration armillary sphere driven by waterpower (NEEDHAM et al, 1960). Su Sung (1020 – 1101) described an astronomical clock to Emperor Chê Tsung in a memorial dated AD 1092. The subject reached great prominence when the astronomers Wang Xun and Guo Shoujing made their observatory south west of Jianguomen (part of Beijing) in 1279 AD.

Guo Shoujing (1231 – 1316), also known as Kuo Shou-ching or Guo Ruosi, was born in the Hebei Province. He proposed a renewal of the calendar to Emperor Shizu, the Shoushi Calendar. Twenty-seven astronomical observatories were set up to perform this task of which the observatory in Deng-feng (Henan Province) was probably the most famous (fig. 768).


Fig. 768 – The Guanxiangtai (observatory) of Gaocheng, some twelve kilometers from Dengfeng (Henan Province, China) dates from 1276 AD.

This site had a long tradition of astronomical observations starting in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 771 BC) and was reported in the mathematical text of the Chou Pei Suan Ching (which also contained a diagram of the hsuan thu, comparable with the ‘Pythagoras Theorem’).

Also some seventeen new astronomical instruments were built, of which thirteen were set up in Yanjing or Dadu (now Beijing). The year was calculated as having 365.2425 days (or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds). This duration is only twenty-six seconds difference from the figures of modern astronomers.

An influence of Islamic astronomy cannot be excluded (SUN & KISTEMAKER, 2001). There is evidence of the establishment of a Bureau of Western (Arabic) Stars and Calendars, which was set up in Dadu. The Bureau was enlarged in 1271 to house two Islamic observatories.

The Song-Yuan period (960 – 1367) of China witnessed a pinnacle of scientific development, with open trade routes and contact between China and the Islamic world. Arabic astronomical instruments and a Muslim calendar (Wannian li) were known at the court of Kublai Khan (1215 – 1294), founder of the Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367) (see also p. 696). This Mongol ruler became known in Europe as a consequence of the writings of Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo (1254 – 1324), who allegedly spent seventeen years (1275 – 1292) at his court.

The Beijing Ancient Observatory (Guanxiangtai) was built in 1442 in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) as a continuation of Guo Shoujing’s efforts in 1279. The building is about fourteen meters high and functioned  until 1929. The establishment is at present a museum with several instruments, like an armillary sphere, sextant, azimuth theodolite, celestial globe and a quadrant.


Fig. 769 – The Beijing Observatory with instruments built by Flemish Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest (1623 – 1688). Fig. 1 in: CHAPMAN, Allan (1996). Astronomical Instruments and Their Users. Tycho Brahe to William Lassell. VARIORUM. Ashgate Publishing Ltd., Aldeshot. ISBN 0-86078-584-X

Some of these instruments were probably designed by the Ferdinand Verbiest (1623 – 1688) or Nan Huairen as he was known in Chinese (fig. 769). Verbiest had an adventurous life. He left – after studies in Leuven, Rome and Seville – for China in 1658 with thirty-five other missionaries. By the time of their arrival in Macau only ten survived.

Verbiest suffered persecution  after the early death  of Emperor  Shunzi,  but  times changed  in his  favour  after he won an astronomical prediction contest in 1669. This victory gained him a position as Head of the Mathematical Board and Director of the Observatory. His Chinese rival, Yang Guangxian (1597 – 1669) had to pay dearly and was cut up in pieces while still alive. Verbiest undertook a number of projects, including a revision of the calendar, translating the first books of Euclid into Manchu, construction of an aqueduct and casting cannons for the imperial army. His ‘invention’ of a (scale model of a) steam-driven car (auto-mobile) in 1672, as a toy for the Chinese Emperor Kangxi, remained a curiosity and should be rated – together with Leonardo da Vinci’s efforts – as an unredeemed invention.

The observatory of Samarkand (Uzbekistan) was constructed in 1428-1429 and slightly earlier than the Guanxiangtai in Beijing. It was part of Ulugh Bek’s development program for that city after his armies had conquered the region of the Tien Shan Mountains and north-western Xinjiang. The program included a hospice (khanaqah), and a large Koran school (madrasa) at the Registan (central square), built in 1417-1420. The observatory was originally a round, three storied building with glazed tiles, forty-six meters in diameter and thirty meters in height (fig. 770). The giant goniometer had a radius circle of 40.2 meters and the length of the arch of sixty-three meters was situated nearby.


Fig. 770 – A reconstruction of the observatory in Samarkand (Uzbekistan),  as it was built by Ulugh Bek (1394 – 1449), grandson of Timur (Tamerlane), in 1428/29, indicates a round building. The foundations of a huge ‘sextant’ (or quadrant) were discovered in the twentieth century. The apparatus was described as ‘the largest meridian instrument ever built’.

The observatories in India came to prominence at the beginning of the eighteenth century under the guidance of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (or Jai Singh II of Amber, 1688 – 1743). He founded in 1723 a new capital at Jaipur (Rajasthan) in accordance with an ancient Hindu treatise on architecture (Shilpa Shasta (Vasta) with the Jaipur Observatory (Jantar Mantar) as a focal point (fig. 771). Other observatories were built in Delhi, Mathura (Agra Province), Benares (Varanasi) and Ujjain (Malwa Province). Jai Singh’s instruments were primarily of Arabic tradition. He had several Muslim astronomers at his court (SAYILI, 1960; SHARMA, 1991/1995).


Fig. 771 – One of the twelve zodiac instruments (Pisces) as built by Jai Singh II (1688 – 1743) at the Jaipur Observatory (India).

The function of observatories in the life of the people participating in the Mesoamerican cultural period (fig. 107) is a matter of debate. A round building known as El Caracol in Chichen Itza (Mexico; see fig. 112) was described as an observatory (AVENI, 1997). However, this building was heavily damaged, and only a cylindrical structure was left standing (fig. 772). It is noteworthy that the American explorer John Lloyd Stephens did not mention the function of this building in his celebrated travel book. He gave the following description: ‘The plan of the building was new, but, instead of unfolding secrets, it drew closer the curtain that already shrouded, with almost impenetrable folds, these mysterious structures’ (STEPHENS, 1843/1963; Volume II, p. 198).


Fig. 772 – The Caracol in Chichen Itza (Mexico) got its snail-like shape due to erosion. Its function as an astronomical observatory cannot be dismissed, but other functions like a watchtower or beacon should be taken into account. This drawing by Frederick Catherwood is from the book ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America’ (1843), written by John Lloyd Stephens.


The Caracol in Chitzen Itza – Photo: Marten Kuilman (1988).

The reconstruction might have used preconceived ideas about its function as an astronomical observatory and a degree of creative renovation cannot be excluded. The establishment of alignments is a notorious tricky one, since any two points can be connected with a line. However, it will not be denied that Mayans were interested in measurements of all kinds. A text in the ‘Popul Vuh’ (a mythological text of the Mayas) is translated as ‘The fourfold siding, fourfold cornering, measuring, fourfold staking, halving the cord, stretching the cord in the sky, on the earth, the four sides, the four corners as it is said ‘, and leaves no doubt about their intentions.

The eternal entities of time (duration) and space (extension) were deeply rooted in the Mesoamerican classical cultures – like in most great cultures, otherwise they would not be there. A concern with movement and division are the logical derivates of this conceptual setting. Subsequently, a historical notion (of creation stories, calendars and clocks) and significance of geometric designs (of agrarian areas, fragmentation of land and cadastral systems – but also as artistic expressions on vessels, etc.) are the visible outcome of these interests.

The European cultural history has several distinct moments of an interest in the observation of the outside world, either towards nature on earth or on a cosmic level. The herb garden of the medieval cloisters led to descriptions like those of Angenis of St. Wadrille (812) and Strabo’s ‘Hortulus’ (827). Attention to nature by the abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) marked a general tendency towards the appreciation of nature – often inspired by a reflection of this greatness as a sign of God’s power.

A major ‘turn towards the contemplation of nature’, took place at the end of the twelfth century, resulting in early forms of science. This period is – in a quadralectic interpretation of the European cultural history (see fig. 267) – the beginning of the Third Quadrant (III). The French scholar Nicole Oresme (1323 – 1382), dean of Rouen, used instruments to watch the sky. His subject of commensurability (of heavenly bodies) was approached on a theoretical level and is surprisingly ‘modern’ from a quadralectic point of view. Other fields of his interests were economics and monetary questions (De origine, natura, jure et mutationibus monetarum; Treatise on Coins), musicology (Tractatus de configuratione qualitatum et motuum)’, psychology (with a ‘theory of unconscious conclusions of perception’ and a ‘hypothesis of two attentions’) and natural philosophy (De visione stellarum; On Seeing the Stars) (TASCHOW, 2003). Oresme is called, with good reason, ‘the French Einstein of the fourteenth century’.

Another point of reference in the history of observation is the life of Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601), who created on the island Hven near Copenhagen (Denmark) a complete observatory, called Uraniborg and Stjerneborg (fig. 773). He measured the stars and planets (in particular the movements of Mars) for a period of twenty years in an attempt to understand the cosmos. He came up with a complicated model with the earth still in the center. Brahe left the island of Hven in the summer of 1599 and moved, with all his instruments, to Prague. He died two years later, but his legacy was kept by Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630). The latter became the imperial mathematician for Rudolf II (1552 – 1612), king of Hungary and Bohemia. Kepler could give three fundamental laws of planetary motion and proposed a heliocentric view and planets moving in ellipses with the sun at one focus. By doing so, he ‘had overthrown the two-thousand-year-old axiom, according to which every motion retrograde in itself must of necessity be a uniform circular motion’ (CASPAR, 1959/1993; p. 135). This achievement can be noted as a marker point in the European cultural history, not only in the field of astronomy, but of thinking-in-general. The ‘surpassing’ of the circular into the ellipsoid could only be achieved in a rigid-logical, psychological framework, which was geared towards a search for the boundaries of its assumptions.


Fig.  773 – The astronomical observatory of Tycho Brahe at the island of Hven in the Sont near Copenhagen (Denmark) was called Uraniborg. He added in 1584 a subterranean observatory to the project, which was called Stjerneborg.


Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg on the island of Hveen.

The Royal Observatory in London (Greenwich) was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II (reigned 1660 – 1685). Flamsteed House, the original part of the Observatory, was designed by the architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723) probably with the assistance of Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703). The house was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. The main room of the Greenwich Observatory was called the Octagon Room and housed two clocks with a pendulum of nearly four meters (fig. 774). The Royal Observatory was used for a long time as a basis for measurements with four separate meridians drawn through the building.


Fig. 774 – Plans of ground and first floors of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich indicate the octagonal building, following the design of the ‘Tower of the Winds’ in Athens.

John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719) was appointed by the King as the first Astronomer Royal. He later ran into troubles with Isaac Newton – after the latter published Flamsteed’s observations of the moon without his consent. Newton, as a President of the Royal Society, further embarrassed the Astronomer Royal, when he allowed Halley to print Flamsteed’s star atlas without his knowledge. Newton’s role was just as debatable in his correspondence with the above-mentioned Robert Hooke, curator of the Royal Society (founded in 1660) and ‘the father of microscopy’. This time the credit for his work on gravitation was at stake.

The only serious competitor in the observations of the skies at that time was the Observatory of Paris. The institution was, initiated by Louis XIV in 1667 and finished in 1671 – some four years before the Greenwich Observatory was commissioned. The versatile Claude Perrault (1613 – 1688) was the architect of the Observatoire. He aimed at a revival of rules and principles in architecture, which later brought out the eastern range of the Louvre Palace in Paris (Perrault’s Colonnade). Perrault became one of the first members of the Academy of Sciences, founded in 1666.

scan5686 The Observatory in Paris by Claude Perrault.

The improvement of the Meridian Room (or Cassini Room) in the Paris Observatory was a late twentieth-century addition by the Nancy-born designer Jean Prouvé (1901 – 1984). The Paris Zero Meridian Line was ousted by the Zero Meridian at Greenwich in 1884. France accepted the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the standard in 1911. The theoretical division of the earth had geopolitical aspects linked with power and  national identity.

The Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford commenced some hundred years later as the Greenwich Observatory to designs by the architect Henry Keene (1726 – 1776) in 1772. He was known for the building of Gothic Revival and Neoclassical style buildings, like Hartlebury Castle (Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire) and the west front of the Trinity College in Dublin (Ireland). His son Theodosius, under the direction of James Wyatt, completed the observatory in 1794. The octagonal ‘Tower of the Winds’ in Athens was (again) used as a model.

The observatory in Brightling (East Sussex, England) – designed by Robert Smirke and paid for by the wealthy iron master John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller (1757 – 1834) – was part of a folly garden. The function of the observatory as a building to house scientific instruments (in a Third Quadrant setting) was intermingled here with the fantasy world of the folly (in a Fourth Quadrant setting). Christopher Wren remarked of his design for the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the same line as he stated that ‘it was for the observator’s habitation and a little for pomp’.

The Armagh Observatory in Ireland, designed by Francis Johnston and completed in 1791 had a similar double function. The role as an observatory was incorporated in the layout of a Georgian residence, with towers erected to raise the observer to a better vantage point. A ‘camera obscura’ installation was part of the instrumentation. Light was allowed into a dark box or room through a small hole, projecting an (upside down) image on a screen. Discoveries of Niepcé and Daguerre (in France) and William Fox Talbot (in England) brought further advancements, leading to photography as it is known today. Visibility was never the same again after the process (of the Daguerre type) was patented in 1839 and developed into a means to communicate observations in the widest sense.

The Observatory of Trinity College (Dublin) was built at Dunsink, some eight kilometers northwest of the capital in 1785 and had a solely scientific function. Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805 – 1865), the discoverer of quaternion mathematics, was a former director of the observatory. This brilliant scientist ventured close to the mathematical roots of quadralectic thinking when he distinguished a quadrinominal expression. One part was called the real part (now: Third Quadrant) and three others, made up as a trinomial were the imaginary part of the quaternion (First, Second and Fourth Quadrant). He carved the fundamental formula (i² = j² = k² = ijk = -1) with his penknife in the Brougham (or Broom) Bridge over the Royal Canal in Dublin on the 16th of October 1843.

The early twentieth century saw a general increase of scientific observations all over the world. The Mount Wilson observatory in Southern California was founded by George Ellery Hale in 1904 and initiated by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The 100-inch Hooker telescope is still in active scientific service. The Mount Palomar Observatory in San Diego (with the 200-inch Hale Telescope, 1949) and the radio telescope in Jodrell Bank (Cheshire, England, 1957) are other larger observatories.

The observatory-in-general had different intentions in the further line of (European) history, of which a statement of vision was probably the most important (which does not have to be at odds with its scientific intentions). For instance, the egg-shaped, silver-domed planetarium in the Russian capital Moscow had this very political statement in mind, when it was established in 1929. Unfortunately, the building lost its historic appeal as a political-educational tool after the Soviet collapse in 1994 and is now subject to a struggle of real estate developers.

The search for a historical identity was also at the roots of the observatory tower in Potsdam (Germany), called the Einstein Tower (fig. 775). The building was designed by Eric Mendelsohn (1887 – 1953) in 1924. He was a leading member of the Expressionist Movement, aiming at an emotional response rather than a physical reality. The iconic De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea (England) is another of his achievements.


Fig. 775 – The observatory tower or Einstein Tower in Potsdam (Germany) was initiated in 1919 to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity. Photo: Marten Kuilman (2011).


Einstein Tower in Potsdam – Drawing by Marten Kuilman (2010).

The observatory is probably the most functional quadralectic building to be imagined, because its intentions are the basic ingredients of a quadralectic world view. A cosmic curiosity  is the utmost goal, which can be achieved in the visible realm of a human presence. Our being on this earth, limited in time and place, should be driven by the desire to ‘see the world’. The capability to observe – and enjoy the feeling of presence – is so elementary, that it might even come before our ability to make a division. Life emerges from a primordial ‘pool’ of feelings of a previous quadrant towards the boundaries of a new identity, chosen in the act.

Libraries were given as the next example of purpose-built ‘observation places’ created with the intention to stimulate the human desire for knowledge. A second motif might be the deep-seated, psychological urge to collect (like it is seen in museums). Collection is, in turn, a means to establish an identity in the world of visibility. Which of these motifs (and/or others) prevail is sometimes difficult to establish, but it is enough to say that these motifs often do not interfere with each other.

Archaeological findings in Sumer (Southern Iraq) have revealed archives of clay tablets in a cuneiform script. Some twenty thousand clay tablets from the Library of Ashurbanipal (the last king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, 7th century BC.) were found in Nineveh, giving an insight in the Mesopotamian culture (fig. 776). The library is – in a temporal-cultural setting – situated at the end of the Sargonid dynasty. King Ashurbanipal (669 – 627 BC), although a great promoter of art and culture, had exhausted his country’s resources in the struggle with Babylonia and Elam and disintegration started soon after his death. The capital Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC.


Fig. 776 – An administrative clay tablet from the Uruk Era (c. 3000 BC) indicates the long history of cuneiform inscriptions. The deep circles and crescents are numbers. True writing with grammar started from 2600 BC onwards. The library of Ashurbanipal (7th cent BC.) was established towards the end of the cultural presence of the Assyrians. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/image_archive/ue/tablet02.jpg

The ancient Persian libraries (of texts written on prepared cow-skins) of the Achaemenid Empire (558 – 330 BC) were found in cities like Takht-i-Suleiman and Persepolis. They contained important books on astronomy and philosophy and other subjects of the Magi (their activities surviving in words like magic and magician). These libraries were destroyed after the invasion by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The seals, which were found in 1963 in Takht-i-Suleiman (see p. 867ff), dated from the early Sassaniden Period (400 – 425 AD).

The classical Greeks already collected books in the fifth century BC, as was recollected in the Deipnosophistae (‘the Sophist at Dinner’ or ‘The Banquet of the Learned’) by the writer Athenaeus of Naucratis, living in the early third century AD. The famous library in Alexandria (Egypt) was probably founded at the beginning of the third century BC, either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (reign 323 – 283 BC) or his son Ptolemy II (reign 283 – 246 BC). No traces of the building(s) themselves nor their contents are found. Damage was done in the first century BC by the Romans (Julius Caesar) and the sack of Alexandria by the Muslims in 642 AD sealed the fate of the institution. However, the library in Alexandria remained a symbol of the collecting spirit in the last quadrant of the Greek cultural period.

The Romans had private libraries in their villa’s (Cicero, Maecenas, Livy). In addition, the Roman baths often had a public library, with two rooms for Greek and Latin texts. Large libraries existed to the close of the Classical period in Constantinople and Alexandria. The library of the Roman states-man Cassiodorus (c. 485 – c. 585) was situated at the monastery of Vivarium near Scylaceum (Calabria) at the shores of the Ionian Sea.

The Islam had their libraries too. The Umayyad Caliphate (661 – 750) showed an interest in natural sciences and during the following Abbasid Caliphate (750 – 1258) a Dar al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) was opened in Baghdad. The Al-Azhar mosque library in Cairo (Egypt) was founded in the 9th century. The court library of the Umayyad rulers of Cordoba (750 – 1031) was another source of knowledge in the Middle Ages. The madrasah (colleges) was the major learning institution during the rule of the Seljuks (1037 – 1300), including college libraries. The Ottoman Turks (1299 – 1923) made their capital in Constantinople and at least thirteen libraries existed in the early eighteen century (WEDGEWORTH, 1993).

The collection of manuscripts became a serious occupation by the Roman Catholic clerics in the Middle Ages. The Iona Monastery Library (England) and other Celtic monasteries in Ireland and Scotland were storehouses of manuscripts as early as the sixth century AD.  The writing and collection of books took off in the Renaissance, in particular after the techniques of bookmaking by  movable types were invented by Johannes Gutenberg. The Vatican Library was initiated by Pope Nicholas V (Pope from and Pope Sixtus IV (pope from 1471 – 1484). The collection of Cosimo de Medici in Florence resulted in the Laurentian Library, which was commissioned in 1523 and construction began in 1525 (fig. 777).


Fig. 777 – The interior of the Medico-Laurenziana Library in Florence was designed by Michelangelo and is an example of a typical Renaissance library. Michelangelo left Florence in 1534 when only the walls of the reading room were finished. The library was opened in 1571.

The ‘Golden Age’ of libraries in Europe can be pinpointed between 1600 and 1700. Books became readily available during this period and a sense of identity – both on a personal and collective level – urged a search. The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford epitomizes a building of that era (fig. 778). It was built to provide a place for public ceremonies of the University, but it also acted as a printing house and library. It was paid for by Gilbert Sheldon (1598 – 1677), warden of All Souls College and Bishop of London.


Fig. 778 – This title page of John Scotus book ‘De Divisione Naturae’ was published by John Fell’s ‘Theatro Sheldoniano’ printing house in Oxford, 1681.

The design of the building in Oxford was by Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723). He explicitly acknowledged being influenced by an engraving of the ‘Theatre of Marcellus’ in Rome (as given in the third volume of Sebastiano Serlio’s ‘Architettura, 1540). John Fell started his ‘learned press’ in 1629 and had five printing presses in operation in 1669. Some hundred and fifty books were printed by John Fell at the Theatro Sheldoniano. He died in 1686. The emblem of the printing house was used for several decades thereafter. Fell’s initiatives resulted later in the Oxford University Press (CARTER, 1975; HUNTER, 1995).

The Redwood Library in Newport (Rhode Island) is a typical example of Palladian building in America (fig. 779), following the major European trends with some delay. The architect, Peter Harrison (1716 – 1775) used Andrea Palladio’s book ‘On Architecture’ as his guideline. Harrison was born in York (England) and became the first professionally trained architect in America.


Fig. 779 – The Redwood Library in Newport (Rhode Island) was built 1748 -1750 by Peter Harrison. He used plates from Edward Hoppus’ edition of Andrea Palladio’s Architecture (1736).

Harrison also designed the King’s Chapel (1749) in Boston (Massachusetts) and the Touro Synagogue (1759) in Newport. His political preference (Tory) brought him in conflict in the years of the American Revolution. His library was burned by a mob soon after he died in 1775, destroying his books and original drawings.

Libraries are storehouses of knowledge and devoted to multiplicity. This quality brings them in a Fourth Quadrant environment. Their architectonic expression does not always follow the tetradic way of thinking. For instance, the library of Vancouver (fig. 780) – by Mashe Safdie – does not convey a particular message in terms of division (thinking).  Nevertheless, the spiral is a powerful symbol with close connection to the circular and to a sense of movement. It defies the static geometric forms and has the onlooker guess to the position in the ongoing communication.


Fig. 780 – The Library of Vancouver (Canada) is an example of a modern library in which architecture plays a major role in its conception. Construction began in early 1993 and was completed in 1995. The spiral is given a new meaning by the architect Moshe Safdie, linking multiplicity to a search for unity.


The interior of the Vancouver Library – Photo: Marten Kuilman (2005).

The architecture of the internet has been mentioned as a new discipline of ‘building’ – in this case virtual building. The relation with classical architecture is ambiguous, because certain elements occur in both disciplines, while others don’t. Clearly,  the design of a virtual network is something different from the design of a house or office building, which in turn is distinct from the design of a neighborhood or city. However, there are certainty resemblances in approach in the continuing creative process from an idea to design and from a model to implementation.

Classical architecture already was a multifaceted subject, and its computer counterpart only added to this complexity. The advantages of the new technologies were soon incorporated as cad cam (computer-aided drafting/design and computer-aided manufacturing). Viewpoints could easily be changed and the sophistication of a model could be enhanced by changing colors or patterns with a push on a button. A more serious treat was the change in lifestyle and attitude of the clientèle.

Paul VIRILIO (1997) wrote a mind-provoking book on the new citizen. He envisaged a behavioral inertia caused by the communication means: ‘the recent transmission revolution leads to a radical reversal in the order of movement of displacement and of physical transportation’. The old type of journey with a departure, a journey and an arrival is in the modern telecommunication society surpassed by a ‘general arrival’, whereby everything arrives without having to leave. ‘Having been first mobile, then motorized, man will thus become motile, deliberately limiting his body’s area of influence to a few gestures, a few impulses, like channel-surfing’ (VIRILIO, p. 17).

This attitude, if it turns out to be persistent, will have repercussions for city development, public transport and architectural design in general. The cocooned (mega) cities of Moshe Safdie, Kisho Kurakawa and Lieven de Cauter might become real. A general mobilization, which was the result of (car) transportation for the masses, will be followed, in Virilio’s view, by a growing inertia. The opposition between man as the original, ‘warrior’ nomad, for whom the journey is most important, versus the sedentary, urban civilian traveling across the internet, is visualized as the ultimate choice in knowing how to be in the world.

This scenario might be exaggerated, but town planners and architects should, nevertheless, be aware of the consequences, if only a part of Virilio’s vision was true. Modern societies become more and more dependable on images, which have lost their touch with reality. The virtual world offers all the wonders of the real world and even more. The human being of the twenty-first century can visit places and see things, which was unknown before. Global familiarity and a virtual unlimited knowledge are within reach of anybody, who has access to – and can  master the basic operations – of a computer.

The threat of a sedentary society – and a gradual slowing down of developments in the world of ‘real’ architecture – can be placed in a cultural-historical context. Indeed, ‘older’ cultures, like the Chinese and the European ones, might reveal signs of stagnation, but younger ones, like the United States, still have to go through the various stages of their visibility.

Therefore, it can be expected that the ‘classical’ (material) type of architecture will follow these developments in the same way as it did in the visibility periods of the European (and Chinese) cultures. It should be accepted, that every cultural unity has to experience, repeatedly, the creativity of ideas (in the Second Quadrant), the tensions of oppositional thinking (in the Third Quadrant) and the emotional experience (of the Fourth Quadrant) and will have to respond accordingly.

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