Posts Tagged ‘proportion’

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Who cares if architecture has a soul or not?

October 24, 2016
goldern-mural

You guys all recognize these don’t you? Ok, maybe not!

Architecture with a Capital A:  Some would say that these images demonstrate the foundation of Architecture, with a capital A.  Whatever your opinion, they are proportioning systems with academic roots in the ancient world.  They are all based on a thing called the “Golden Ratio” and, like it or not, they work.  The temptation, which I will resist, is to go into a discussion of what they are and where they are used.  A one minute google search will inform any unacquainted reader and spare me the trouble of saying again what others have said often and better.

The golden ratio appears in nature.

Numerous examples  of the golden ratio demonstrate that proportion appears everywhere in nature.

Proportion, based on the golden ratio, can be thought of as an infinitely expanding and contracting telescope of repeating pattern: rectangle exactly divide by a square, another rectangle divided by square, another rec…

Proportion is Indigenous:  So, if not to explain, then why bring it up?  Because proportion, as defined by the “Golden Ratio” is indigenous.  It is part of nature, and when used in the built world, proceeds from the human condition; meaning that many, if not most, of us recognize, relate, find comfort, inspiration, and just plain beauty in an entity displaying proportional properties;  those being, the parts relate to the whole and they do so in an organized way.

Has Proportion Disappeared?  Sadly, proportion, at least in the classical sense discussed here, is mostly gone from our everyday built environment, and based on recent pursuits of everything green, it would seem like it is threatened in nature as well.  Proportion, after all, depends on rules, on absolutes.  They don’t do very well in a world where everything is relative.

 

Large and Lovely

Are classical proportions the soul of aesthetics?

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Consider this old house, built somewhere around 1900.  I know this place well because my grandmother lived down the street.  If style is the meter, it appears that some history of architecture book exploded onto its facade, typical Victorian, except for the 1960’s aluminum awnings and the 1990 standing seam metal roof.  Somehow classical proportions, along with the historic references, crept into the design with happy results. It took very little effort to impose golden rectangles onto the picture, in spite of the perspective for which no attempt at correction was made.  The whole is a harmony of parts, even suggesting that if the proportion is right, then the mismatched and mixed styles don’t matter.

Big and Bad!

Are aesthetics without a soul?

The exercise was much more difficult with this “house” and the one below.  Indeed, I couldn’t make it work.  No mater how many ways I scaled, rotated, moved, repeated, assembled, disassembled and reassemble the golden rectangle and its various parts, I could torture only a hint of classical proportions out of the image on the top and nothing from the one on the bottom.

not-golden-rec

Are aesthetics even necessary?

It is only fair for me to reveal that, for me, the two places above qualify for “McMansion” status, which is nicely itemized here:  McMansion Hell.  Does this disqualify me?  Maybe not, since if my analysis is correct, carefully worked out proportions could save even a “McMansion!”  If someone sends me additional examples, I am happy to try the exercise again.  I’d rather, though, evoke a positive, if fleeting, response.

Maybe it is the other way around. Could classical proportions proceed from the soul?

This little building should have come first in this discussion, as it is what made me examine the composition of beauty that I found residing there.  Like some parti for elegance, not only does it appear to be returning to nature, but from the standpoint of proportion, it just might be.

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Extreme Craftsmanship Required

May 17, 2014

 

Corrugated Aluminum House in Sweden, published in Designboom, by förstberg arkitektur och formgivning. Follow the links to see the entire house.

What could be more relevant:  sleek modern design, industrial materials?   So why does our very  real everyday built environment not often share such an aesthetic?  When it does, why must it end up looking “home made” like the house in the photo below, as apposed to the polished mechanized version above?  And granted, my photo below is bad, but not bad enough to account for the difference

modern reno

The sign in front of the building says “Design Build Finance”

So why do the quality places seem only to appear in expensive trendy areas, hidden away in private retreats, alas on the pages of Dwell?  To start with, a close look at the house in Sweden reveals that is a a timber frame.  In the US the skill of cheap stick building has been refined to the level of excluding everything else.  Any other structural system ends up costing more.  But it is not just the structure that is different.  It is the quality of the finishes, which in the Swedish house are perfection; no distorted or warped trim, unfinished edges, mismatched windows, off the shelf garage doors, or unfinished wood there.  Not to mention the strangely proportioned design and very commercial need to install windows in the roof.

There is a lesson here.  Extreme craftsmanship is required if industrial materials are to be used successfully.  If funds and/or confidence are in short supply, then I say opt for tried and true methods and put your efforts into a superior design.  I know!!!  Why not hire and architect?

 

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“Real” Appeal

April 20, 2013

The ‘real” appeal of being house proud.

Three in a row.

Places like this are mostly excluded from the intellectualized world of architecture and design, except for – dare I say it -on  HGTV.  Those people understand that people don’t live in architecture.  They live in houses.  Whoever lives here is house proud, a term not often heard these days and in my mind somehow attached to the “American Dream.”  It means that even the most modest abode becomes alluring when it is obviously cared for.  Here the meticulously manicured yard, the fence, the porch, even the matching up and downstairs air conditioners deliver a strong subliminal message that says, “we like our house a lot and you should too.”  The thing about subliminal messages is that they are the stuff of art.  Art museums are full of ordinary objects arranged by artists against carefully chosen contexts in an effort to deliver some message often much less penetrating than the one that happens organically here.

Lest one think that there is a great deal of humanity, but really no architecture here, a closer look may be in order.  Consider how the bit of light foundation contrasts with the grass, forming a  visual perimeter around the house which doubles as a sill for the ample basement windows.  Consider how it repeats under the fist floor windows, capping the rusticated brick work and defining the top of a visual base for the entire building. Consider how the rusticated corners add substance to the structure.  Consider how the brick diapering and decorative pattern balances the heavy base and add interest to a plain facade.  Consider how repeating the house three times in a row in different colors adds humor. Perhaps this is architecture after all.

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Taming the Tower

June 13, 2012

Comment on “The Last Resort”

This post is a continuation of a discussion entitled “The Last Resort” started on another blog.  I am posting it here in order to show the sketch.  The discussion is about possible finishes for this house which is under construction.  The home owner was trying to  reduce the “rocket” affect of the turret.  I thought that the house design was all about an assembly of volumes, not the least being the turret, and that adding a fake chimney in the empty space on the end gable elevation would detract from the design intent.

The sketch was to help show what I was trying to point out.  When you take the gable end elevation by itself the empty space implies that something should be there.  I actually wrote a blog post on exactly this subject:  “Something is Missing“.  In this case, though, if the trim boards frame the elevation so that it appears to be an additional large volume, then not only do the angled window support the overall shape of the elevation, but also the size and prominence of the turret is reduced by dint of the fact that now there are two large volumes instead of one.  Even the little windows angled up the elevation above the porch now contribute to the overall composition.

Further, if the foundation is finished so that it matches the color of the ground and if the basement windows are trimmed to match, the house settles down.  Also, another visual trick is to use a light color trim where the house meets the foundation.  Since our eyes are always drawn to elements of high contrast, visually we tend to see the base of the house at the top rather than the bottom of the foundation.  Sorry for the bad sketch.  Also, if I was working with this home owner I would do a number of sketches in different configurations to help them see what they like.

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Moderation lost?

May 10, 2012

MLS/Web ID: 2870780

Not so long ago, home builders of every elk understood that employing a few fool proof tricks of the design trade could actually create enduring architecture,  serving both resident and neighbor for many, many years to come.  Symmetrical elevations and plans work, even if the individual elements are anything but classical.  Vestibules work, especially when a graceful visual presence is provided by a single story gable, glass panel walls, and matching double doors.  Arts & Crafts shed type dormers work when reinforcing a symmetrical elevation.  Multiple windows in a row work when mirrored side to side and up and down.

These elements can be read like a book.  They say this house has a living room on one side and a formal dining room with kitchen behind on the other.  Upstairs there are likely 3 bedrooms, two of them being the same in width.  The main rooms in the house are light, all having at least one wall of windows.  The house is modest, its perception grand.   I am left wondering how we have come to prefer suburban mansions, or rows and rows of urban density?  Has moderation been forever lost?

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Drama at the expense of taste?

May 8, 2012

MLS/Web ID: 2912625

Here the  stone covered fireplace enclosure is so massive that it reduces the actual fireplace to a piece of hardware.   It overwhelms not only the soaring interior space but also common sense.   On some level, most of us understand that stone is heavy, much heavier than what would logically end up where it has.  The fake stone veneer looks more fake by dint of how much of it is used.  An architect, because he or she has studied scale and proportion (not to mention the peril of a single step) might have created drama without sacrificing good taste.

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Real people can’t hire dead architects.

October 24, 2011

MLS #/Web ID LO7517101

It is clear from the proportion and perfect symmetry that this is a example of what an architect can bring to a project, albeit a dead one.  I don’t know if a live architect designed this actual house, but somewhere in ancient Rome and Greece dead architects have left timeless standards of beauty and grace that were successfully applied here.