On the Bridging Powers of Geometry in the Study of Ancient Theatre Architecture

Zeynep Aktüre
Bridges London: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2006)
Pages 387–394


The on-going popularity of the Vitruvian layout for the Latin theatre is largely due to its capacity to bridge across several disciplines, which seems to appeal to a certain conception of material culture that assumes the existence of a plurality of formally similar structures of culture beyond surface phenomena. These tend to be not merely potent in their explanatory force but also gratifying aesthetically and ethically. Modern scholarship has forcefully promoted such a conjunction of truth, beauty, and goodness in the link between the Theatre in the Asklepieion at Epidauros and Pythagorean speculation. However, similar cognitively-significant structural or formal bridges would seem difficult to establish in all examples. In their absence, the search for a perfect geometry of perfect shapes beyond the extant remains may turn into a purely formalist exercise made possible by the capability of geometry to serve as an analytical tool through a reduction of the architectural code to a geometric code. This is a dilemma intrinsic in the difficult relation between architecture and geometry. In fact, Vitruvius seems to have noticed the problem long ago and tried to build a material bridge between his geometric assembly and the architectural project by recognizing the necessity to give up symmetry in the latter, wherever required by the nature of the site or the size of the project.