Ben Nicholson
Illinois Institute of Technology, USA

Jay Kappraff
New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA

Saori Hisano
Illinois Institute of Technology, USA

98-nicholsonIn 1774, a portentous accident occurred in the Reading Room of the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo. The shelf of desk 74, overladen with book, gave way and broke. During the course of its repair, workmen found a red and white terra cotta pavement hidden for nearly 200 years beneath the floorboards. The librarian had trapdoors, still operable today, built into the floor so future generations could view these unusual pavements. In 1928 another mishap resulted in the exposure of the entire pavement, which allowed photographs to be made of the fifteen panels on the West side of the library before the wooden floor was replaced.

Overall the pavement consists of two side aisles and a figurative center aisle. Each measuring about 8'-6" square and composed of a different design. The fifteen panels mirror each other's form but differ by a very small degree and in subtle ways. When juxtaposed in a series, the fifteen pairs of panels appear to tell a story about the essentials of geometry and numbers. Each panel settles upon a theme: the tetractys (panel 5); Brunés' star and the Sacred Cut (panels 7 and 11); Plato's lambda (panel 14); the Golden Mean (Panel 13). When assembled together they form an encyclopedia of the essential principles handed down from ancient geometers.

Although they are hidden from view today, Nicholson believes that the panels were laid according to a plan for a furniture layout that would have exposed them, but that this plan was changed after the panels had been made. He suggests that the original intention was to infuse the spectator with the foundations of ancient geometry as he walked through the Reading Room of the Laurentian Library, the geometry being a perfect complement for the 3000 classical texts chosen to reveal the body of ancient and modern living.

The correct citation for this paper is:
Ben Nicholson, Jay Kappraff, and Saori Hisano, "The Hidden Pavement Designs of the Laurentian Library", pp. 87-98 in Nexus II: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. Kim Williams, Fucecchio (Florence): Edizioni dell'Erba, 1998.