1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Elements of Architecture: Size; Proportion; Harmony; Symmetry

(Part 2)

Elements of Architecture: Size; Proportion; Harmony; Symmetry

With regard to first quality [size], it is clear that, as the feeling of power is a source of the keenest pleasure, size, or vastness of proportion, will not only excite in the mind of man the feelings of awe with which he regards the sublime in nature, but will impress him with a deep sense of the majesty of human power. It is, therefore, a double source of pleasure. The feelings, with which we regard the Pyramid of Egypt, the vast monoliths at Rome, the massive temple of Sicily and the Parthenon, and the huge structure of Stonehenge, sufficiently attest the truth of this principle.

The qualities in general disposition of parts of a building which calculated to give pleasure to the beholder are proportion, harmony, and symmetry. To obtain a clear idea of general plan in order to appreciate these qualities, the best method is to contemplate the building under conditions that prevent the mind from being disturbed by the consideration of details- at a distance, for instance, or moonlight, when its out lines may be seen standing boldly out against the sky. Thus the mass of Gothic cathedral, the proportion of its parts, the outline of tower, nave, choir and lady chapel, the deep shadows which show projection of recess of its various parts, are in them selves beautiful even when there is not light enough the distinguish moldings, carvings, or tracery.

Proportion itself depends essentially upon the employment of mathematical ratios in dimension of a building. It is curious but significant fact that such proportion as those of an exact cube, or of two cubes placed side by side – dimension increasing by one half (e.g., 20 feet high, 30 wide and 45 long) – or the ratios of the base, perpendicular, hypotenuse of a right triangle (e.g. 3, 4, 5, or their multiples) – please the eye more dimension taken at random. No defect is more glaring or more unpleasant than want of proportion. The Gothic architects appear to have been guided in their design by proportion based on the equilateral triangle.

By harmony meant the general balancing of several parts of the design. It is proportion applied to the mutual relations of the details. Thus, supported parts should have an adequate ratio to their supports, and the same should be the case with solid voids. Due attention to proportion and harmony gives appearance of stability repose which is indispensable to a really fine building. Symmetry is uniformity of plan, and, when not carry to excess, is undoubtedly effective. But a building too rigorously symmetrical is apt to appear cold and tasteless. Such symmetry of general plan, with diversity detail, as is presented to us leaves, animals, and other natural objects is probably between excesses of two opposing schools.

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