Monday, 4 October 2021

Entasis

I don't often post about the Great War anymore. But it has not lost its fascination!

Today is World Architecture Day and it's an appropriate time to consider the enormous achievement of the Great War's chief architect, Edwin Lutyens. Famous, of course, for designing the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Lutyens had been involved since before the war's end with plans for its commemoration, and plans to the remembrance of the war dead. 

On a trip to France and Flanders in 1917 Lutyens spoke about the  "the ribbon of isolated graves like a milky way across miles of country where men were tucked in where they fell." Those haphazard battlefield burials would be tidied into the great military cemeteries we know today and in many, there be be a white stone altar (known, non-liturgically as the Stone of Remembrance) inscribed with the words (chosen by Kipling) "Their Name Liveth For Everymore".

Both the Stone (relatively small, at 12ft long and 4ft high) and the Cenotaph (over 30ft high) are built using the ancient architectural principle of entasis, used in the building of monument like the Parthenon.  What this means is that neither the horizontal nor the vertical surfaces are truly straight: they taper, imperceptibly, according to mathematical calculations that were apparently so complicated they covered 30 pages of Lutyens notebooks!

To the naked eye, the lines look straight. But they curve, very slightly and if you were to continue the vertical lines of either the Stone or the Cenotaph they would form a great arc meeting 1000ft above the ground. The horizontal lines, meanwhile, would extend to form a circle whose centre would be 900ft below ground.

It's a subtle effect that gives both monuments a sense of hidden grandeur and a connection with the eternal. If you've ever stood and wondered just what it is about such otherwise plain, straightforward monuments that makes them so impressive, entasis could be the answer. 






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