Symbolism: Discovering stories of our built world


Dan Brown is one of the authors that I always look forward to reading his works. Although some groups find his work disturbing and controversial, his books are always interesting to read and ignite my curiosity in cryptography, symbolism, arts, and even architecture. Brown's writing merges both facts and fiction that readers can mistakenly perceive the fiction as the facts. His books offer to dwell on subjects that religion or science find taboo to discuss, most likely fictitious or myth until found out like the Holy Grail, and some we consider conspiracy.

Brown's book standout in terms of the clever use of symbolism in arts and architecture and merging math and science in the context in his writing, aside from his writing itself. A recurring theme in his books is solving crypt text that anchors into the quest for truths and secrets. We can point out that most symbols are in arts and architecture like the US Capitol in The Lost Symbol, the Vatican in Angels and Demons, and the Louvre in Da Vinci's Code. We can list several architectures involved, most of which are pillars of history in our built world.

Two months ago, I wrote about sacred geometry in architecture. I emphasized that sacred geometry infuses our architecture with harmony and provides a space for enlightenment. The symbolism creates an environment that affects our physical and spiritual well-being. We may never fully comprehend what the symbol represents, but we are confident that symbolism is part of why architecture becomes masterpieces. Dan Brown frequently bases his works around our oldest cities like Barcelona, Rome, and Paris. Symbolism in his books always relates to religion and religious structures, which often wear sacred geometry.


Our ancestors' quest to discover the meaning of life leave us with great stories of ancient wisdom, elixir, and even maps. Some ancestors built temples and buildings littered with symbols, which they believed were the link between man and god. Our ancestors observed the heavens to understands life, space, and time. Their understanding became the basis of how they built their homes and temples. I often come to think, why did ancient civilizations have similar beliefs and symbols without cultural trades? It may be a crazy coincidence, but I think it lies deep within our humanity to find purpose, or maybe the works of collective consciousness.

Symbolism in architecture enables us to learn the lives, culture, values, and stories that our ancestor holds dear to their heart and mind. It helps us understand how life before and continue to cherish the history that ancient architecture hold. Our ancestors used architecture as a tool to validate what they observed, and it is an expression of communal celebration of their discovery. We can see how the architectural environment measure time through light and orientation.

Architecture is like a written text that holds stories for everyone to hear. But the narratives we see are different from what the others see. Architects may perceive architecture differently than us bystanders appreciating the beauty. Like how others misunderstand the crypt text as to what Robert Langdon did in Dan Brown's novel, we interpret the symbolism in architecture differently. Each one of us has a unique interpretation of what we see. Symbols in architecture can be cipher key to the stories embedded in our ancient architecture, like the stories of Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs.

Architecture elements carry narratives that can be symbolic and beyond just sketches. We can understand their symbolism consciously or unconsciously as we relate it to our experience of the space. The circle gained symbolic, mystical importance in our ancestors that it became part of the designs of dwellings, graves, and temples. Hindus used squares in their temples to express celestial harmony, while circles, polygon, ellipse, and the Greek cross became an integral part of the design during Renaissance for Christian churches.

Domes, towers, stairways, portals, and Colonnade are consistent symbolic forms in architecture. We associate the domes with heaven, becoming customary throughout history to decorate them with stars and astrological symbols. Also, it wears depictions of God like The domes of the US Capitol's Apotheosis and the Sistine Chapel's Creation of Adam. The tower stands tall and depicts a symbol of power. It evolves into a Chinese pagoda and Gothic cathedral, but it still holds the expression of supremacy, much like our modern skyscrapers.

The stairway represents monumentality and an expression of convenience, which embraces more by Baroque palaces. From ancient Egyptian temple pylons and Babylonian city gates, portals became monuments in their own right. It becomes a symbol serving to transmit a greater significance to what lay behind them. In Gothic cathedrals, Colonnade is an expression of richness, much like the Greek temples. We often overlook decorative as an aesthetic fix to make the space more pleasing, but more than that. Figural arts and sculptures define the architectural character of mass and space. Sculptures of Hindu temples and the mosaics of Byzantine churches are not simply decorative but dictate the shape of the structure itself.

Everyone has spatial experiences that our built world expresses something, albeit they are not always consciously comprehended. We don't use our eyes alone to feel and perceive spatial quality since only the simple spaces that we can wholly experience at one glance. Modern Architecture encourages us to take a walk and gain new sensations. Walls won't be confining and restricting us but subtly arrange better spatial experience.

Again, symbolism in architecture allows us to see a better picture and hear the true stories of our built world. Through a sophisticated system of symbols, old cultures' architecture could express complicated messages that can be philosophical, religious, cosmological, and others. Everyone was supposed to understand the meaning of the symbols, just as we now understand the alphabet. But sadly, some symbolism is lost through time, much like what Robert Langdon tried to solve in Dan Brown's novels. Architectural symbolism is finding the lost narratives to have a better spatial experience from our built world.

Check out my previous post on Architecture and Design Community




  1. Jeff Mottle, The stairway to heaven: interpreting symbolic architecture in arch

  2. E Astakhov, Architectural symbolism in tradition and modernity, 2020 IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering

Photo Credit:

  1. The US Capitol in Washington DC photographed by Keely Miller, and The Apotheosis of Washington seen in Capitol rotunda, which is photographed by Constantino Brumid

  2. St. Peter Basilica in Vatican photographed by Mailan Maik, and The Creation of Adam in Sistine Chapel, which is photographed by Constantino Brumid

  3. Egyptian hieroglyphs depicted in columns and interior. Photo from 简体中文 and Aldborough Primary School

  4. Cenotes is an underground water supply in the Maya and Inca. The photo shows a ritual altar. Photo by Darren Lawrence Also, a typical Maya or Inca pyramid photographed by Peter Vandecave

  5. A Hindu temple and a Chinese pagoda. Photo from Jeyaratnam Caniceus and Penny

Image in the post cover is a screenshot from Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol TV series.

3 columns
2 columns
1 column