There’s Something About Roundness

By Bernie Bell

When I went for my Covid Booster jab I didn’t take my camera, so couldn’t take a picture of something in the hospital foyer which caught my eye.  Mike has now been for his Booster, so I asked him to take a pic.  I’ll explain…..

As we were leaving the Balfour, I saw a picture on the wall and thought it was a Broch/North Atlantic Round House!  To  attempt to define/explain Brochs, I’ll take the liberty of quoting from…..

“Nonetheless, one of the most prevalent and the most researched structures of the Scottish Iron Age are brochs. Broch towers are characterised as structures which combine architectural components of Atlantic roundhouses into a taller, more visually impressive form. There is a continuing debate surrounding the terminology used to discuss the Iron Age roundhouses of Scotland.”

I looked closer and saw that the image on the wall was an aerial view of the Balfour….

Maybe I am just being a Brochhead, but….well….it looks awful like a Broch – with associated settlement – to me.

This got me thinking about rounded structures, and how humans appear to have a liking for them.

In some cultures living places were/are built ‘in the round’, so that bad spirits can’t lurk in the corners. In some climes, they are built in a circular shape so that the weather can just whistle round them. Our house is a rectangle, and has a wind-tunnel at either end.  A round shape can ease the wind flow, in windy places.  Sharp edges make the wind do sharp things.

There’s something about roundness – something reassuring and maybe motherly.

I like it that the Balfour has a garden in the middle. The middle space in a Broch was lived in, but some now have things growing in them…..

I couldn’t help wondering if there was an awareness on the part of the designers of the New Balfour, of the history of the solid structures which were centres for the communities of Orkney in the Iron Age? 

For some aerial views of Brochs, here’s one I made earlier…… 

I looked up the designers of the New Balfour, and their ’blurb’ mentions Skara Brae – where the structure are also round…..

………… but no mention of Brochs.

Look at the Balfour – look at how it serves the people of Orkney, then look at the Broch of Gurness  and The Cairns in South Ronaldsay, and how they will have been a hub for the lives of the folk around them – births, healing, passing.

It makes sense to me.

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