Updated: Apr 8, 2021
This whole enterprise started with a simple Google search of home styles. My family and I knew we wanted to move (sooner rather than later) and where we wanted to move to (Northeast Washington State). We just weren’t sure about what we wanted to move into. A barn? Teepee? Log cabin? A boxcar?!?
I started reading up on all types of domestic dwellings, and then I ran across an article on yurts and about the advantages of living in a round space. An article in Sunset magazine featured a young couple from New York who had elected to build a yurt on some land outside Park City, Utah, and this is what they had to say:
“We were intrigued by this concept of ‘living in the round,’ ” explains Dennis, who first encountered the nomadic shelter 13 years ago while on a mountaineering expedition in Kyrgyzstan. “If you think about the cycle of the seasons, the shapes of the earth, the moon, the sun—everything is circular, like a yurt. Living in one made sense to us.”
A bank of windows on the home’s sunny southern side, where Brown practices yoga and Dennis meditates, heats the concrete floor, which helps keep the house warm. Depending on the season or the time of day, a glass oculus at the ceiling’s 18-foot peak can be opened or closed, regulating the temperature.
I was intrigued. The part about living in a round home and how that kind of space mimicked nature reflected the vibe and feel Jenna and I were after: live in a way, both functionally and aesthetically, that reflected the world around us. And now we could: literally. The world around us.
Shapes matter. So does language:
Let’s gather around
S/he’s in the inner-circle
The circle of life
Knights of the Round Table
The best reason I heard for living in a round came from a story a sub I’d hired told me after we’d been up here a few months. His cousin had built a round home, and when asked why, he replied simply, “So the devil can’t corner me.”
Studies on such matters have shown that the presence of a space without corners and walls (our home design is 85% open space concept) relaxes people and encourages intimacy. It literally brings people together, like a circle that infinitely moves toward the center. There are about as many degrees in a circle as there are days in a year, which reminds us of not only the cycle of the seasons but the cycle of life
The mathematical significance of a circle is also intriguing. When you are at the farthest part at any point on the plane, you are exactly the same distance from the center. The circle is the shape with the largest area for any given length of perimeter, and the area enclosed in any circle and the square of its radius are exactly proportional. Any point on the perimeter, when matched with its opposite point, will go through the center. More specifically, a Cartesian circle is an ellipse with an eccentricity of zero, which means that the two foci coincide with each other as the center of the circle. Not coincidentally, the number zero is a circle.
And then there’s the whole business of pi…
Center. Circle. Cycle. Zero. Pi. Needless to say, I was sold, on the concept at least. It was time to find a way to make this whole concept a reality. Enter Smiling Woods Yurts (www.smilingwoodsyurts.com), some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Each member of this highly specialized team specializes on particular elements of building the world's most beautiful round homes (technically a 32-sided polygon). Their team of 8 makes the cedar walls and conical steel roof, replete with a beautiful oculus Douglas Fir center ring 6’ in diameter and weighing over 300lbs and designed to let natural light into the living space.
Naturally, we are building a stacked spiral staircase in the center from basement to 2nd floor loft, both to save space and to mirror the trees we are surrounded by. In building this structure, I even got to bring out my 8th grade geometry lessons and actually use, to great effect, πr2. Go figure.
And then, again, there’s pi. Today is international pi day (3.14). A number of years ago, I auditioned to get on a TV show that my daughter and I watched religiously called Wipeout. I was called for an audition and was expected to bring some special talent. The specific episode was going to be called “Brains vs Brawn,” so just to be safe, I tried to give myself an equal chance of making it on either side of the team by reciting pi to the hundredth decimal while doing 20 pull-ups. When I showed up for the audition in Burbank all ready to show my stuff, I didn’t even make it past the opening interview. Talk about a wipeout.
From the spiral of the DNA double helix to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to the concentric circles that travel outward from a splash in a pond to the pupils of your eyes, pi shows up everywhere, and it sits in the space of our new home somewhere between its circumference and its ratio. To find its exact position? Impossible. Pi is a so-called “irrational number,” which means that the digits of pi extend in no discernible pattern for infinity. Computers have calculated pi to several billion digits to find its precise value. No dice… it is an inherently unknowable number.
Maddening, right? On the contrary. Brilliant. A subtle reminder that some things aren’t meant to be known or figured out or solved. Which is, finally, why I like pi. It reminds me where I belong – where we all belong – somewhere in the cycle of life. Somewhere imprecise, mysterious, irrational, even. Somewhere infinite. Somewhere known precisely only to God.