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Creativity, Geometry, and Generative Design in the Architecture of Medieval Chinese Buddhism

The famous pagoda at Songyuesi (ca. 523 CE) is not only the earliest full-size pagoda extant in China, it is the only with a dodecagonal plan. Located on Mount Song, near the Northern Wei capital at Luoyang, the unusual plan of the Songyuesi pagoda reveals how design strategies used for divinatory devices, reliquaries, and towering Indic temples could be used to create a structurally stable brick tower imbued with an inherent generative power. This paper shows how a craftsman’s technique used across Eurasia may have been interpreted as a type of geometric “proof” of the Buddhist cosmological system, providing evidence that ritual objects could be designed by humans to transmit natural, live-giving energy to those who used them.