The Ring

Cirle’s origins

Circle. It is said to be a perfect shape. Soothing, even a bit hypnotic. It has been known to humans for centuries and has recently been completely rediscovered by architects and interior designers. I don't want to sound like Gus Portokalos from “My Fat Greek Wedding”, who was able to prove the Greek origin of every word, but I'm afraid that as an architectural element, circle has been popularized mainly by the Japanese culture, although, of course, neither earlier Chinese influences nor later interpretations from the 1950s can be excluded.

Round windows in traditional tea pavilions must have been noticed by the first Europeans arriving in Japan in the second half of the 19th century, when Japan was forcefully opened to the world. Later, in the 1950s, Japanese architecture and Japanese interior design elements such as furniture and accessories captured the minds of European architects, coming in successive waves to Scandinavia. Furniture and accessories from the turn of the 20th and 21st century, on the other hand, made an impetus to enter our (and, what is interesting, Asian as well!) contemporary living rooms a few years ago and so by a detour, large-format recesses or mirrors give interiors a Japanese feel, although they have grown into our culture so much that probably not many people realise it.

The secret power of a cricle

A circle, especially when it is a large mirror, optically enlarges the interior and illuminates it. In addition, it beautifully softens the angles of walls and furniture, becoming a faucal element of the interior. I personally love round mirrors, but even here I am a bit conservative because I accept them only in the large format edition, without decorations in the form of frames or chamfers. I designed exactly such a mirror, but in the form of an incomplete circle (Japanese asymmetry!) for the bathrooms of the tenants in the currently revitalised L'UNI building in Wrocław, precisely because of the need to illuminate the interior (floor -1) and to break the noble, yet simple rest of the equipment. I myself have one in my bathroom, slightly wider than the metre-long washbasin with a commode over which it hangs, and it always brings to my mind only one association: Japan. Why?

On the Japaneseness of a circle

I probably don’t have to mention such trivial symbols as the Japanese flag with a red symbol of the sun inscribed in a white rectangle or traditional mon (family symbols usually inscribed in a circle). Instead, I will focus on traditional Japanese architecture, in which round windows appear and have quite an interesting symbolism. In traditional Japanese chashitsu (tea pavilions), in addition to fulfilling their primary function of illuminating rooms and providing fresh air, windows also symbolised the final stage of enlightenment. As reported by the Japanese Window Research Institute, they also used the concept of mitate. In Japanese, mitate means to repurpose, to enable an object to be perceived in a new way, to contemplate it as if it was something else. Round windows were therefore not just meant to be windows, but to symbolise the outdoors, something outside which emits natural light, namely the sun and the moon. Depending on the time of day, they made it possible to observe the play of light and at the same time provided an unforgettable aesthetic experience.

Thinking about mitate and the symbolism of round windows in the Japanese architecture, I was reminded of another function of my bathroom mirror, and mirrors in general. I am fortunate in that when I open the bathroom door wide I can observe a good portion of my flat from a distance. When I look in the mirror, not so much at my own reflection but at the reflection of what’s behind me, I see a completely new space, which allows me to appreciate its beauty anew. The sense of sight is similar to the sense of smell. The nose stops smelling even the strongest fragrance quite quickly, it gets used to it and doesn’t allow us to enjoy it for long. Looking "through" a mirror allows us to break this peculiar loss of perception.

I know that a circle is just a circle and a mirror is just a mirror, but don't you think interiors become magical when you understand their symbolism deeply and can consciously create them? I believe that was the case with the creators of interiors I’d like to share with you today.

Kurenai light object by Ane Lykke inspired by Japanese woodworking technique. The three-dimensional grid of colours reflects shades of light differently depending on the viewing angle. Via Design Milk.