The following text appeared in the 1983 book, called the Decorated Diagram, by Klaus Herdeg:
“In recent history, the most graphic and politically important instance of deliberately manipulating the shape and symbolism of a table occurred in 1968 to 1969 peace negotiations between the United States and South Vietnam on one side, and North Vietnam and Vietcong on the other. North Vietnam was intent on establishing the equal status of the Vietcong even at the price of doing the same for South Vietnam, while South Vietnam vehemently opposed giving Vietcong any legitimacy, even at the price of merging its identity with the United States, so long as the two pairs of allies were clearly distinct from each other. Hence, North Vietnam and the Vietcong proposed a square table and the United States and South Vietnam a long rectangular one. Evidently each side was aware of the inherent formal properties and correlative political meaning of each shape and rejected the opponent’s proposal for precisely that reason. In their second proposal North Vietnam and the Vietcong were willing to talk around a circular table, thereby figuratively eliminating the identity of all participants. The Americans and South Vietnam still insisted on recognition of each pair of adversaries and therefore proposed, after many variations were rejected out of hand, two semicircles with a neutral zone in between. This was also rejected by the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong because it still did not express the equal status of the Vietcong either by articulation (square) or submersion (circle). After weeks of further haggling a compromise was designed: a solid circle with two secretarial circles opposite each other across the round table. Finally it got to be the matter of inches. Eighteen magical inches separating the circular table from its rectangular satellites brought the agreement to sit down.
What is clear in this example is that the parties never disagreed about the meaning of a given form, and that both recognized and cherished the political symbolism implied in form. The circle with its rectangular satellites eighteen inches removed was apparently the exact configuration, which accommodated the North Vietnamese/Vietcong intention of interpreting the circle as unbroken. At the same time the United States and South Vietnamese could claim, because of the rectangular table’ alignment and closeness to the round table, that there really existed two distinct areas divided by a middle zone marked by the side tables. In short, a dual interpretation was made possible by deliberately creating a multivalent form, allowing the coexistence of two fundamentally opposed political positions.
A table being the field on or across which untold human interactions take place-from a writer’s solitary ruminations to portentous political meetings-its shape, its intrinsic geometric properties, are crucial to its effective use, and thus it is a classic example of formal structure “at work”. The principles governing the formal structure of a table, expanded to encompass the space or room in which a table is placed, the relationships among spaces in a building, and a setting of a building itself will be applied in critiques in the following chapter.”