Is happiness 'e.g'-shaped?

Updated: Apr 15, 2018

How a good egg-zample helps our visitors to love our venues

I love to hear examples. It’s how I learn best. And here’s a great example. Imagine you are holding an egg on your palm. It’s fragile, isn’t it? But amazingly strong. Your egg’s strength is in the curvature of its shell. Now look up. Above you is this stone vaulted ceiling:

Oxford’s beautiful Bodleian Libraries have the stunning Divinity School at their heart. William Orchard’s medieval stone-wizardry makes it all look easy, as if he can turn sandstone into honeycomb bars. But don’t be fooled. The stone-work is incredibly heavy, despite being pizza-thin. And while it looks as frothy as a cappuccino, the ceiling is here to support Duke Humfrey’s Library. A stone chamber upstairs, full of heavy oak beams and books (plus a lead roof), top-loaded onto the School structure in 1488 as an afterthought. BUT - the school-room walls are actually all windows – you can see them in the picture. This means the massive ceiling is balanced on a glass box, precisely as delicate as an Easter egg (I will get back to your egg in a moment, I promise).

I’m here – every working day – to explain the complexities of Gothic engineering to the Bodleian’s many visitors. I’m one of the tour-guide team, and it’s our challenge (and our pleasure) to interpret this building in ways that visitors can enjoy. Quite a lot of our guests are jet-lagged; many of them have little or no English. But they are all awed by this ceiling and they want to know what? why? how?

Hence the egg-zample at the beginning of this post. When I say to visitors, “Imagine an egg in your hand”, and show with my hand something light and curved, I begin to see faces light up. This complex idea is within their grasp, literally. I demonstrate the effort of holding up a heavy roof, and they look at the shape of my hands and then up at the graceful stone ‘fingers’.

There’s even an egg-box in my example. You know the egg-box in your kitchen?

You can see it has lots of different angles to the cardboard, making it rigid enough to hold the eggs safely. Now look at the vaulted ceiling again. There are the same angular planes, in the web-spaces between the fingers. William Orchard’s immutable construction has been keeping Duke Humfrey’s Library safe for over 500 years. A few handy examples can help us to love it even more.

By the way, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means ‘for example’ – although gratia also translates as thanks, favour and goodwill. With the greatest goodwill, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the world’s most beautiful egg-box. Happy Easter.

© Naomi Hillman at 2018 Also on LinkedIn:

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