Circles, Disks and Rings

Observed as a recurring phenomenon in nature and universally interpreted, the circle stands as a fundamental geometric shape. It symbolizes various concepts such as infinity and unity, among others.

In constructed environments, the focal or central point of a circle can be represented by a tree as the axis mundi, a fire pit or an arena floor, with spectators evenly distributed at its rim. It represents an ideal structure, unity and equality. When spinning, the centripetal forces cause one to move closer to the centre, when in the centre, one becomes the axis (or a rotten egg in a kid’s game teaching us the difficulties of individuality). A community of friends is a circle.

In contemporary landscape architecture projects, circles appear in different functions, sometimes as a complementary shape to accentuate existing or created convex or concave landforms, marking a specific area or ritual grounds or facilitating connectivity. We can roughly divide them between the following typologies: square, fountain or water feature, platform, path, religious or memorial site, and roundabout.

The Fire Ring artfully employs the geometry of the circle to cultivate a sense of unity, and togetherness, masterfully navigating the duality of dimensions. The scale is just right; it is grand enough to preclude exclusivity, yet intimate enough to avoid the impersonality often associated with public installations. Robin Winogrond, the American-born Swiss designer, has further invigorated the space with nods to American and the convivial cowboy culture of gathering around a blaze. This circular configuration naturally coalesces individuals, spotlighting the fire’s mesmeric presence at its core.

The Void Temple, an architectural pilgrimage beacon in Jalisco, Mexico, juxtaposes the natural with the built, physical with metaphysical. It offers spiritual solace along the 117 km route dedicated to the Virgen del Rosario. Sheltered by trees that evoke a cathedral’s grandeur, yet on a modest forest floor. The temple’s white ring frames the sky, inviting a connection to the divine. Straddling the site’s slopes, the white concrete circle respects the landscape’s horizontality, embodying a reflective haven amidst the pines—a contemplative threshold where nature and the sacred converge.

Atop the hill, the Sky Platform, a 30-meter diameter circle of polished concrete, merges the geological echoes of the moraine beneath with a social space that feels almost ethereal. This viewing disc, through a delicate choreography of water and fog-jets, transforms into an artificial cloud, blurring the boundaries between earth and sky. As the surface shifts from a foggy mist to a reflective water film, visitors experience the sensation of touching the sky, akin to flying or gliding through clouds on an airplane, making the sky a spatially tangible realm. The integration of these elements creates a social magnet, inviting interaction with the sky above in a poetic interplay of natural and engineered beauty.

In the project ‘Still Alive’, Wagon introduces a small shrine-like garden that works as a distant coordinate in the metaphysical structure of the place. It juxtaposes the entire historic milieu with current issues of landscape, in a contemporary language via the historic, round-shaped container and its position. It acts as a paradox; it is a counter-site and plays with time. Positioned in a historic park and composed of “life in all its forms”, from reused concrete to pioneer plants and stuffed animals, it alludes to Earth viewed from above. The other part, the unmowed meadow circle works as a biological base for the rockery garden.

The park on a former parking lot in Copenhagen works as a circular rainwater basin. At its perimeter, the water is collected from surrounding roof surfaces and guided to sunken parts of the park covered in lush water planting. The circle is further articulated by meandering paths that take us across the water, passing by benches and existing bunker entrances. It manages to effortlessly centre itself amidst city structures such as the parking lot, Psychiatric Center, residential and cultural amenities into an unexpectedly playful park.

The circle of The Forum is inscribed in the former Nazi Parade Grounds, a square-shaped courtyard used to exercise and display power. Offset from the axial centre it breaks the rigid militant symmetry. Paths radially connect and integrate the Forum into the wider project scheme. The Forum works as the heart of the Park of Encounters, a place of public discourse, play and appropriation. It is covered by sepia-coloured shredded pavements from the site. In combination with the urban equipment found on site coloured in the same tone, it infuses the meaning and recodes the past.

The luminous ring of Smedetoften park rises above the former Copenhagens’ “non-place” void. 1:1 Landskab designed a space packed with programmes which don’t work overwhelmingly but rather allow for different user groups and interests to cohabit in this small space. Raised on poles, the circle above the organic and scattered shapes works as a landmark which coherently connects them into a comprehensive whole. A feature of its attractiveness is the light band that turns on at dusk throughout the year.

The Plads sits in front of Ejesberg’s Music House and Art Museum. The main feature of the square is a circular water feature that works as a cymatic plate, resonating with the music program. Vibrations from events inside or by pre-programmed jets create a rippling water surface effect. Birch trees planted concentrically around the basin and in the raster of the building pillars, further accentuate the connection with the programme. Square creates an extension of the indoors as a tree-tops-covered living room yet delivered so meticulously that it always works in mint condition.

Marking the project’s typology as a “bridge” reveals the thought process behind it. The bridge looks like a circular pier, yet is not, it is a reference to a structure that no longer exists. Without trying to reestablish the past, the bridge design discovers something new. It can work as a scenic path, a connection between shore and sea, a sculpture almost afloat at high tides, a sunbathing deck that encircles a river mouth, standing on the axis, recontextualizing the summer pavilion nearby.

On the sea promenade in Zadar, a sun-powered LED “dancefloor” was designed by Nikola Bašić. It is a monument to the Sun that communicates paired with the Sea Organs and planets of the solar system presented relationally. The Sun charges photovoltaic modules underneath the plates that turn on the light show during the night and yearly gather enough electricity to power half of the city’s waterfront illumination. The monument is a playful attraction point in the bustling tourist city, allowing visitors and residents to mingle on the Sun’s surface while numerous colourful patterns blend underneath their feet.

A project that looks very simple in its form stems from complex underlying conditions. The intention was to form a place of rapprochement between historically conflicted Mapuche people and Chileans since the culture and autonomy of native inhabitants are under question. The structure of this civic space took hints from footprints of Mapuche ceremonial spaces and added a vertical element, the wooden poles. Instead of aiming for “less”, designers went for “more-or-less”, meaning the circle is more or less a circle, more or less oriented towards the east, becoming a “kind of” structure to allow openness and adaption by communities. They named it Künü, referring to the interwoven structure and a social set of relationships, while Koyaüwe is a place of parley.

The Plaza, nested on reclaimed land between the port and the city, sits above the underground traffic routes and centres a number of historic references, scattered about. A huge water basin connects those dots around the plate and adds another layer on top of what was present here before – designed cave-like structures in lava-like material in which tourist information, signage, kiosks and other amenities reside. Such a wide basin in concrete plays with the (intentionally artificial) look of a white sand shore contrasted with a black volcanic island. Together with cave structures, it develops a strong commentary on artificial nature created for the needs of contemporary city dwellers.

Landscape architects initiated guerilla gardening in an undermaintained and neglected Los Angeles’ Elysian Park. Comprising the first four Test Plots in different terrain configurations and exposures, the circles about 10 metres wide, were watered, weeded and planted with the help of community volunteers. The shape of the plots resembles the agriculture fields yet these are full-blown experimental native wild but tended gardens, monitored yearly to review the results. Their initiative spread to educational practice and disseminated test plots elsewhere in LA, showing that replicated and scaled, test plots can propose the possibility of community stewardship of parks and public space.

Roundabouts are a classic infrastructure element with empty yet spacious centres usually utilitarily unaddressed. Predominantly they carry a representative function but what about in areas where no additional representation is needed? The roundabout centre of Piazza Nember in Venice takes on the functional role of a square or a park while allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross which is usually not the case. It became possible by narrowing the traffic lanes thus enlarging the inner circle, allowing the residents to habit the space in a dense urban fabric.

Published on March 26, 2024

One thought on "Circles, Disks and Rings"

  1. Laura says:

    thank you for the excellent article!

    also, Cormier’s Ring in Montreal

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