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Most people who pass the Cenotaph probably don't realise that it represents a tomb on a pedestal, but see it simply as an abstract design. There are many classical prototypes, including the tower tombs at Xanthos in Lycia and Roman examples such as the secundinii tomb at Igel near Trier in Germany. What is unusual about the Lutyens cenotaph and gives it its power is its starkness and lack of decoration.

Secundinii tomb at Igel in Germany.

The cenotaph does not contain a single vertical or horizontal line. Lutyens utilised the Greek technique of entasis, in which curved surfaces create the illusion of straight lines. The vertical lines if extended would converge at a point over 1000 feet above the ground. The horizontal lines form a circle whose centre is 900 feet below ground. The Cenotaph deliberately omits any religious symbol, because those it commemorates were of all creeds and none.

The tomb at the top of the pylon

In architecture, entasis is a design technique used to counteract some optical illusion. When a column or other structure is designed with parallel sides, the sides appear to have a slight inward curve. Entasis is the inclusion of a slight outward curve in the sides - making them not parallel - to counteract this optical effect. The goal, somewhat paradoxically, is to give the appearance of straight lines through the use of curves and optical illusion.
It was likely first used in the contruction of the Egyptian pyramids, but can also be seen in Greek column designs. Noted architects like the Renaissance master Andrea Palladio used it in their buildings. More recently, Rolls-Royce cars all made use of it in their radiator grills.