PART 1: WHAT IS GOOD ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN AND HOW DO I GET IT?
By David Dussair, AIA – (Design Build Team, Inc.
The saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a good way to prevent disputes, but the trouble is, it just isn’t true. Relativism is popular currently and absolutes are out of fashion but there is such a thing as good and bad design. In architecture there are determined proportions and relationships that result in good design.
Architecture may be the least appreciated of all the arts as we need it to live and see it around us all the time. However brilliantly painters, sculptors, and furnishers might embellish the architect’s work after completion, the beauty that they create is essentially decorative. The architect’s basic structure is being used as a canvas or frame. Yet true architectural beauty is something quite different and more abstract. It must be inherent in the lines, proportions and perspectives of the building itself. It must reveal to the responsive mind, an inner logic in which every individual feature has its own specific relationship with every other and with the whole. (Great Architecture by Norwich)
The inner logic – proportion – speaks of math, and 90% of people in this country feel uncomfortable with their math abilities. Yet math is the common thread which runs through all design and construction work. (Math to Build On, by Hamilton)
To equate good design with math seems an oxymoron yet there is one equation constant in good design from the beginning of time – the Golden Section or “phi”. “Phi” as the Greeks called it, is considered the constant of design, “the world’s most astonishing number”. As cited by Werstien’s Golden Ratio, the pervasive appearance of “phi” in all we experience creates a sense of balance, harmony and beauty in the world around us and it is no surprise that man would use this same proportion to achieve balance, harmony and beauty in architecture, design, composition, space and even music. This ratio is also known from centuries past as the Golden Mean, the Divine Proportion, and the Signature of God.
The golden section is expressed mathematically as 1:1.618. The number 1.618 is actually the rounded-off value of an irrational number that mathematicians named “phi”, so as not to confuse it with “pi”. To see how the golden section works, consider a simple line C: Divide the length by 1.618. The resulting shorter section A relates to the longer section B by the same proportion that the longer leg B relates to the whole C. In other words, A/B= B/C. That means that C/1.618=B and B/1.618=A. (Fine Homebuilding, 11/04) (Drawing below)