Alpha and Omega: from the Sagrada Familia to Placenta and Cancer



The links between architecture and the sciences are as old as both of these human achievements. But modern scientific thought and methods are far more recent than architecture. On 30th November, 1660, Christopher Wren (the architect of Saint Paul’s cathedral in London, among other endeavours) delivered a lecture at one of the regular meetings of the natural philosophers who used to meet at Gresham College in the City of London, and at that meeting it was decided to form a society for the promotion of ‘Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning’. Two years later, King Charles II granted the new body his personal imprimatur in the form of a charter, and so the Royal Society was born. Today the Royal Society is the United Kingdom’s National Academy of Science, and it recently celebrated its 350th anniversary. The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi was more interested in geometry and God than in scientific research, but he conceived a large part of his Sagrada Familia in 1911 when seriously ill with brucellosis (also known as Malta fever, or Mediterranean fever). His obsession with the Alpha and the Omega (the Beginning and the End) is patently visible in many of his works. Here we briefly review its impact on his masterpiece in Barcelona, and a certain symbolic conceptual parallelism with the hypothesis that some placental immune escape mechanisms (physiologically leading to Birth) may perhaps be redeployed by cancerous cells to avoid immune vigilance (pathologically leading to Death).