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.
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.
Are classical proportions the soul of aesthetics?
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.
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.
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.