The CORNER -metaphor

Post 672 by Gautam Shah

This is the 1st article of series: ‘CORNERS’.


Corners and Angles power cable-power-lines-current-energy

A corner is convergence of two lines or surfaces, respectively to a point, or line. It can be an outward entity with crowning vertex, and an inward form of a depressing nadir. A vertex and nadir both are zero measure elements, mere points, abstract representation of a corner. In comparison a corner is far more substantial due to its wedge like spread.


‘Nature has no corners, you are the vertex or nadir of it’. -unknown.

Terrestrially directions are always well ‘based’, real and cardinal (North, East, South, West), whereas, Corners occur as inter-cardinal ephemeral entities. The spatial sensualities of the human body, format the sense of emplacements and orientation, such as the Left-Right, Up-Down and Front-Back.


Indian mythological space has 10 corners (four cardinal points + four angular points + up & down). The Kshetrapals (Guardians of the estate), however reside in four corners of the plot. The Global locations are defined through the corner formed by longitude and latitude. The Global Positioning System (GPS) was based on tracing of radio frequency, but now multiple satellites (as many as 24 or more in different types of orbits) work as regional and global location noting system. Besides location, the satellites also define movement and its direction, and altitudes. Currently photographs have embedded information about location (like longitude and latitude through GPS), but in very short future this will be reinforced with information about angle or direction of the shot.


Estate corners have been assigned specific meaning and preferred tasks in Indian Vastu Shastra (Classical cannons of design-building). East direction should be open, light, bright and clean. West direction is for stability in life. North is holiest or purest direction. It is for wealth and prosperity. Energy flow out so should be lowest in level. NE is for deities to reside. South direction is considered inauspicious for entrance. It is owned by Yam, Hindu deity for death.


Some similar approach is offered in Jewish-Christian traditions. God created all sides, but left the North unfinished, saying, ‘whoever declares own-self to be God, allow the person to finish this corner, and then all shall know the truth’. From that unfinished corner, demons, winds, earthquakes, and evil spirits come forth to the world. From the north shall disaster break loose (Jer. 1:14). Because of the cold North winds, it was identified as the abode of evil spirits.


Egyptian pyramids and other buildings are squared and well oriented. These have axial depth depicting space sequences. But the Egyptian art has total absence of oblique except for the Ra’s rays, ropes of weighing scale, wide feet and few gestures of the hand. There is a datum line that divides the scene into several strata, but does not become a scaling device. There are vertical elements that frame (a built-frame like mandap or chupah) the important person but it is a planner view. Architecture is gravity stable, with sloping faces of columns, obelisks, pylons, ceremonial ramps, and oblique faces pyramids.

andré bloc, sculpture-habitacle 3, la tour, meudon, paris, france 1966

A corner is a recognizable, and long-lasting point or mark on a property. It is a point, from where a change (of direction) occurs. A corner marked property, has edges that define the exterior versus the interior attributes. It also defines, ours versus others domains. Corners define convex or concave (outward or inward) character of a spatial entity. Corners, if belong to the inside, mark what is included, and if on the outside, define what is excluded. We traverse an estate as a planner entity of corners, and for this, the contoured undulations are not important. A triangle, a three-cornered shape, has three vertices, and it is the minimum entity. Large country surveys are resolved to triangles, as the sharing of vertices, edges, and angles creates a linked universe.


The prime cornered entity has been the Dice, with its potency to turn the fortunes. The dice, on one its six sides, has 4 dots at corners (like the city cross road diagonals). This was known as quatre (French), and anglicized to cater. Somewhere along the time, the word Cater came to be truncated to ‘cat’, and corners were identified for the cat to be in. No one asked the feline creature, if she preferred, a window sill instead?



Corners are right angled, acute, obtuse or reflex. Solids have corners with two exterior faces and hollow objects have two interior faces. The outward sides of an acute or right angle corner are difficult to comprehend simultaneously, because one of the side remains concealed, till one turns around. The exterior corner can be grasped fully, if only one moves away from it. Obtuse and reflex corners sometimes defy the perspective view. Solids have impersonal exterior faces, and hollow objects have compassionate interior sides’. Acute corners of an isometric view create visual aberration, where outward and inward corners look identical.


A megaphone, trumpet, bullhorn, etc. are cone-shaped acute corners whereas speakers have a wider cone of an obtuse angle, both are meant to amplify the sound. The conical angle enhances the power of sound and radiate it in desired direction. A ‘listening cone’ for hearing fetal heart sounds of babies, is acute angled, whereas a dish-antenna is an obtuse-angled device that captures sounds (or energy) from a wider source, and concentrate it at the narrow end.


A plane vertical edge enhances the corner, but if the plane is not a true square or has surface perturbation like single or double curvature then visual distortion is very ambiguous. An outward incline of the edge-plane over a corner push the centre of gravity away from the base, and makes the solid unstable, conversely an inward lean of the edge-plane over a corner is visually depressant, but offers an assuring gravity-stable solid.




Corners are secluded spaces, ideal for intrigue, but the occupants remain unaware that conversation gets amplified and others can overhear. Secretaries, maids and butlers use reverse wine glass for listening to secrets. A corridor is a good sound transmitting tunnel, unless properly baffled or insulated. A corner protects you from sides, but does not allow any offensive action. Corners have little freedom of movement, and so one cannot hope to play blind-person’s buff.

Temple corner-1973442_1280

A corner entrance offers deepest traversing distance, so on any estate (party-place, banquette hall, game or fun-park, museum). Just like the main course of dinner, the entree is longer lasting and satisfying. Corners are closed and dead, but seclusion of a corner is dissolved by a gap in the end, like a funnel. It drains away the energy, but also acts like a pressure release valve. This technique is well exploited in public spaces like piazzas, plazas, courtyards, etc. The sides of parallel (square or rectangular) remain uninvolved but a cornered entity (parallelogram, triangle or multi-cornered) offers hopes of involvement.

Parthenon Athens Greece (1978) Wikipedia Image by Steve Swayne

Corners were re-realized when ‘perspective machines’ began to offer rational views with regulated corners. For architecture, the corners were  conceived for the perspective, but in paintings, these were exploited to put everything to scale and format a unified composition. The view making corners were most obvious in Greek Parthenon Here, not only the site was cornered, but built-form was also angled, but much later Baroque period created its own multi cornered architecture irrespective of the site.


Essence of a corner is its end point, and not the sides, inside or outside faces. In a perspective, corners mark the change of plane, but due to the taper, scale the scene. The corners, in perspective exterior or interior ones, all really occur inside a hypothetical cone. Performance stages were once round, but for controlled perception, have turned into wedge form. The tapered form of the stage has several advantages: On solid wall stages tapered shape reinforces the sound delivery like a megaphone, the wedge shape adds to the visual depth, it also allows the sides of the set to be visible from the audience arena. Games have corner shots as penalties. Loneliness is not confined by the sides, but it is just a personal low point, in an empty or crowded space. In a corner, if the change over is spatially distanced or time delayed, it turns into catch-22, a paradoxical situation of opposite set of rules (title of 1961 novel, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller). Corners must be negotiated quickly and decisively, and as in games one must negotiate (‘cut’) it from a distance or get shot by hidden opponent.

Street city corner-road-downtown

A corner is also a joint, and here two different things have some generative encounter. Joints are conditions of adjacency between two or more objects, which offer some spatial surprises. Many different social and political activities flourish at corners, investing a different meaning to the architectural space.


The word corner derives from > ‘corne, corner, horn, cornū, cornua, cornere, corniere, corna (horn or hyrne), angle. Use of cater (French quatre =four”), as a verb can be traced to the 16th C as meaning ‘to place something diagonally, move diagonally, place diagonally or cut diagonally’.

Angular Growth oia-santorini-greece-buildings



Post 554  by Gautam Shah


Designs are representations of ‘themes with abstract content’ at one level and ‘intentions of functional nature’ at another level. As a theme, designs consist abstracted forms or motifs. The motif is an object or experience appearing several times in a peculiar context, or on its own in a changing scenario. It may appear as a consistent pattern or organization in temporal or spatial scale. Motifs or patterns enable us to enact, depict, narrate an objective. A motif can be structured pattern, imagery, phones, musical element or scale, gesture or posture, used to express a concept or reinforce it. In later case the motif serves the purpose of a metaphor as an abstract representation of something.


Art Nouveau Doors in France Boulevard du Montparnasse Wikipedia image by Dinkum

Designs, also represent intentions for a future object or happening. The functional nature of the object or happening, are too large in scale and long lasting, and cannot be expressed except in some surrogate form. The form allows condensation, comprehension, manipulation within a sensorial reach capacity. All aspects of design intentions cannot be transformed as a surrogate for several reasons. The surrogate manifests on, media of some type, which has limitations of size, formatting technology, scale of detail, retention and recovery, temporal variations, etc. These forces, one to adopt metaphoric forms for expressions. For example colours become monochrome, solids and surfaces presented through edges as lines, graphics for cut section views, frames in time sequences or cuts for zones in space.


Story telling through imagery and metaphors -Pabuji no Pat, Rajasthan India Wikipedia image MicheleLovesArt

Metaphor establishes an ephemeral link between a real and unreal things or between two unreal things. So a relationship between a real object and its representation is metaphoric. The design intentions for a functional object or happening as a surrogate relies heavily on things ‘unsaid’. People who read design for the first time never make a ‘head or tail’ of it. But cues to the represented reality are strong enough to cause the learning. Most designers experience this, and so make design presentations in many different formats, such as plans, elevations, isometric or perspective views, models, renderings with shadows etc. These act as the metaphors for metaphors, but cumulatively transmit the idea of design. Here metaphoric design representation is an analogical bridge to something that is far away. Somewhere a comparison, association, slight familiarity is established, and the design is justified and accepted.


Door metaphor for change -Flickr image by Hartwig HKD

 Designers use metaphors:

1 to establish a cognitive link to the intended environment of the design object or happening.

2 to project a unitized organization from the diverse components or situations.

3 to envision a unitary concept overriding distributed and differing elements of the design.

4 to imply the absentee elements and their relationships with a real entity.

5 to ascribe a sensorial experience to environmental or spatial conditions.


Surfing a metaphor used in Internet -Wikipedia image by (original) Megan L. Stiner

Metaphors occur in design formation because one is dealing with many different stack holders, each of which has different level of knowledgeability, cultural background and relevance to design process. First design presentations are highly personal expressions, which are abstract and unstructured entities. In initial stages the nature and content of design are formative not amenable to nominal design language. So the only recourse is to ‘sing’ about it. ‘Singing’ allows literary intonation of feelings, and both of these have been with us for a long time, and so familiar.


“Vimaan” architecture (light-airy like an aeroplane) Galleries at Rani ki Vav (step well) Wikipedia image by Mv.shah

Design metaphors are often described as concept or idea, but design metaphors rely on real forms and experiences. The forms and experiences lying in subconsciousness, ride on to some justifiable precept. A “very large hall” as a description is reinforced with degree intonation, becomes a metaphor. Descriptions like “vast expanse of airy space”, “bright open rooms”, “presence in the neighbourhood”, are not metaphoric unless reinforced with a real object or experience. Some situations however, have accepted relationships, like cool (mountain), breezy (sea shore), dark (night), spooky (sound-echoes). In design to endow the intended experience metaphors accompany, literal symbols (including motifs, patterns), similes, material expressions, architectonic elements, established spatial forms, time scheduling the experience (delaying, accelerating, enhancing) and sensorial exposure and reach.


Runestone Uppland Sweden Wikipedia image by Berig

Motifs and patterns have inherent meaning and order, and these are used as a superlative or emblematic expressions. At this level it can serve few intentions of a metaphor. But such usage requires an ethnic maturity and associations with other objects and expressions.


Museum of Old and New Art -Nolan snake painting of motifs Wikipedia image jeffowenphotos