Perfection?

Perfection  Does that make great space?

Many would agree that one of the most beautifully perfect spaces is the interior of the Pantheon.  Set in the center of Rome, it began as a Roman temple to many gods. Later it became a church, which probably saved it from the papal pagan-purge of ancient Rome.

Its perfection lies in it structural geometry. It is a sphere set in a cube. Yes, this may make our rational minds feel comfortable with such symmetry and proportion, but what takes this space to a greater status is its magnificence. This is achieved through sheer size underlined by the fact that it was built with ancient means. It is the largest masonry dome in existence. The dome is 142 feet in diameter and weighs five thousand tons. However, the architect didn’t stop with size, he added design elements that enhance the space.

The architect emphasized the domed space with three simple design devices, which you can find in some of your favorite buildings. First, a hierarchy is provided with the ground level statue niches projecting out into the space, above them are receding blind windows, above those are indented coffers and above those the greatest void, an open oculus, or circular hole. Second, all these elements radiate up and decrease in size to emphasize height, acting as up pointing arrows. Third, as Eric Gibson in the Wall Street Journal (July, 21, 2012) said, “the oculus is many things. It is the Pantheon’s basic design module. It is an act of consummate architectural audacity. Most of all, however, it is a portal to the heavens.”

Great space isn’t made just with perfect proportion or super-size, but with added architectural design, which manipulates and transforms and yes, surprises.