Writing about American food production and presentation in the Cold War era, Tamar Alder observed that “ringed or round connoted nature tamed.”  She explains: “As food production was mechanized, there followed a march of finished foods made round: cocktail franks, meatballs, cheese wheels, cheese balls, onion rings, sherbet rolls and pale, melted fondue, bubbling in small round pots.”  (see review:”Mid-Century Visions of Modern Food)

All those concentric rings of food–it suggests one current of inspiration behind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:Space Odyssey vision of space technology as built of interlocking circles, cylinders and spheres.  When the movie draws you in–as it does when the astronaut (whatever his name) jogs in zero-gravity loops around the ship’s cylindrical wall–you almost begin to feel how the body and mind would adapt to such a world.

Why though, suddenly a design vocabulary of circles in the fifties and sixties?  I think it had a lot to do with an emergent epistemology of global self-extension.  World maps in every first-world classroom, an airport in every metropolis, apples shipped from other hemispheres, mutually assured self-destruction.

The beauty of circular movement resonates again in this historical moment.  Not the circle as a symbol of “nature tamed” in any imperial, dualistic sense.  What resonates in the midst of present crises is the circle as a symbol of self-awareness, and how it implies consideration for the roots and branches of every action across space and time.

Author: Sam Coren

I am a native of Providence, Rhode Island and current doctoral student in American Studies with a long-standing interest in the spatial morphology of cities, and more broadly, the impact of technology upon landscape. Feel free to contact me at sam dot coren8 at gmail dot com

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