Thursday, May 23, 2013

The hills have eyes

I've written quite few posts about pyramids and designs inspired by them in France.  My experience was a good example of the cognitive bias known as the frequency illusion (aka ) "The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon", which is defined by Wikipedia as "the illusion in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one's attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards."

That said, there were a lot of pyramids:  inverted, truncated, made of stone, made or earth, etc.  So maybe it's not a cognitive bias after all;  I merely began to seek, and I found.

For examples of how this played out on LoS, see posts tagged Pyramids.  That way I won't have to repeat everything I've already said about them, which is largely brilliant and profound.

Seriously though, when I saw this tunnel entrance on the way to Andorra recently, I had to get a pic.  I'd noticed it before, but this time it meshed nicely with a post I'm working on featuring pyramids, truncated pyramids, eyes and pyramids and underground spaces both natural and engineered.

What gave me pause is that it really does resemble the entrance to some sort of tomb, something suggestive of the ever-tantalizing eye in the pyramid.  Doesn't hurt that the layers of stone coinciding with the space directly above the mouth eye of the tunnel amount to three, which, to my mind, always evokes Freemasonry and it's three degrees.

I would wager that the architects (Yves Faup and Frédéric Zirk) certainly had pyramids in their minds when they designed this.  Despite the fact pyramids are tombs, they evoke stability, longevity and security.  The Pyramids in Egypt have been around for millennia and they haven't collapsed yet.  That's a reassuring thing to evoke as you head into a stretch of road underneath several hundred feet of mountain.

A few facts about the tunnel, from the one-sentence Wikipedia page:  "The Foix Tunnel is a tunnel located in Foix in the French department of Ariège on the RN20. Construction began in March 1996 and the tunnel opened on 30 October 2004. It has one tube with a length of 2,159 m."

An online search tell us that the tunnel was designed under the aegis of the Ateliers Joël Nissou 
and designed by Yves Faup and Frédéric Zirk.  The cost of the work was 729 000 Euros and was delivered in 1998 .

Their description:

Le site de la tête nord présente un contraste important entre une vue panoramique - sentiment d'ouverture - et la rentrée brutale dans le massif de calcaire - sentiment de fermeture - aux flancs desquels s'accroche une végétation arbustive. La démarche architecturale a été de retrouver les sensations éprouvées par l'usager en abordant l'ouvrage, ce qui s'est traduit par l'ouverture en forme de coin de deux volumes anguleux pénétrant la montagne.

L'usager venant du sud, après avoir franchi la vallée en position dominante, est une dernière fois confronté à l'obstacle de la montagne, avant de trouver à la sortie du tunnel une perspective très ouverte sur la vallée de Foix. Ainsi la tête sud exprime un contraste entre la "verticalité" de la colline calcaire située au-dessus de la tête de tunnel et la dominante "horizontale" de l'aménagement : plate-forme d'accueil exprimant le calme et la simplicité qui préfigure la plaine.

They don't specifically mention the pyramid form or that they chose it for giving a sense of security, but it is implied somewhat in their formal consideration.  Mainly what they were after was a sense of harmony with the surrounding landscape.

My lazy and loose translation:

At the north head of the tunnel there is a sharp contrast between a panoramic view -- a sense of openness -- and the brutal background of the limestone massif -- a sense of closure -- on the sides of which cling shrubby vegetation. The architectural approach was to capture these sensations experienced by the driver in the work itself, which resulted in an opening in the form of a wedge of two angular volumes penetrating the mountain.

After crossing the valley from the south from a high vantage point, the driver is at last confronted with the obstacle of the mountain, before once again finding at the tunnel's exit a very open perspective over the Foix valley. Thus the southern head south expresses a contrast between the "verticality" of the limestone hill above the tunnel's mouth and the dominant "horizontal" arrangementa welcoming ledge expressing a peace and simplicity that foreshadows the plain.

Suggestions for a better English rendering of this text would be more than welcome.  

Nothing about pyramids, but that last sentence, in addition referring to a harmonious arrangement with the landscape, I think expresses something which is effectively communicated by the pyramid form, not only in its geometric stability, but in its cultural legacy as well.

Of course, by linking it with the pyramid, it's a sly wink to French technical prowess in general, and more specifically the durability of the architect s' design.

Plus I'm a geek and it looks like an eye in the pyramid.  The Great Architect of the Universe has his own representatives on earth, apparently, and they are civil engineers and the "developers" they serve.

And that's probably way more than you wanted to know and certainly way more than I intended to write about the Foix Tunnel.


  1. Is this the south or the north entrance?

    It's visually interesting that the left wedge is almost exactly the same angle as the angle of the mountain.

    Anyhow, this seems obviously a pyramid with a entrance to the underground!

  2. This is heading south. And yeah, it definitely gives that impression.


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