Proportion in architecture

Proportion is a central principle of architectural theory and an important connection between mathematics and art. It is the visual effect of the relationships of the various objects and spaces that make up a structure to one another and to the whole. These relationships are often governed by multiples of a standard unit of length known as a “module”.

Proportion in architecture was discussed by Vitruvius, Alberti, Andrea Palladio and Le Corbusier among others.

Greek architecture
The proportion in architecture thus reaches its first theorization and value in Greek architecture, and is closely related to the philosophy, mathematics and music of classical antiquity.

The Greek term analogy could indicate symmetry understood in its geometric sense, but it was above all identified with its sense of proportion, harmony and perfection, sought in particular in the construction of temples (Greek). In fact, this harmony could correspond to the geometric symmetry used for the harmonization of the temple, as demonstrated by the adoption of the opisthodomos, which had the function of making the sacred building perfect and harmonious (only rarely was it used as a covered place used for offers and votive products). Moreover, the analogy is directly related to the commeasurability (ie the fact that an object can be measured) of a part of the temple with respect to its other parts and with respect to the temple itself. For this reason in the Greek temples is adopted the module, which represents the base diameter of the columns, which is multiplied and given as a measure of another part of the temple (for example, the height of the column in the Doric order had to be between six and seven modules).

The “De Architectura”
Vitruvius, in the third book of his treatise De Architectura, writes:

“The design of the temples is based on symmetry, whose method must be scrupulously observed by the architects. Symmetry arises from proportion, which in Greek is called analogy. The proportion consists in the commensurability of the individual parts of the whole work, both with each other and with the whole. This commensurability is based on the adoption of a fixed module and allows the application of the symmetry method. No temple could have a rational design without symmetry and without proportion, ie without having an exact proportional relationship with the members of a well-formed human body. »

In the last sentence the Doric temple is related to a man, because of its majesty and majesty. Vitruvius also compares the other two main orders, the Ionic and the Corinthian, respectively to the woman and the girl, always in relation to their characteristics.

Proportion in Roman Architecture

Vitruvius’ Theory
Architecture in Roman antiquity was rarely documented except in the writings of Vitruvius’ treatise De Architectura. Vitruvius served as an engineer under Julius Caesar during the first Gallic Wars (58-50 BC). The treatise was dedicated to Emperor Augustus. As Vitruvius defined the concept in the first chapters of the treatise, he mentioned the three prerequisites of architecture are firmness (firmitas), commodity (utilitas), and delight (vernustas), which require the architects to be equipped with a varied kind of learning and knowledge of many branches. Moreover, Vitruvius identified the “Six Principles of Design” as order (ordinatio), arrangement (dispositio), proportion (eurythmia), symmetry (symmetria), propriety (decor) and economy (distributio). Among the six principles, proportion interrelates and supports all the other factors in geometrical forms and arithmetical ratios.

The word symmetria, usually translated to “symmetry” in modern renderings, in ancient times meant something more closely related to “mathematical harmony” and measurable proportions. Vitruvius tried to describe his theory in the makeup of the human body, which he referred to as the perfect or golden ratio. The principles of measurement units digit, foot, and cubit also came from the dimensions of a Vitruvian Man. More specifically, Vitruvius used the total height of 6 feet of a person, and each part of the body takes up a different ratio. For example, the face is about 1/10 of the total height, and the head is about 1/8 of the total height. Vitruvius used these ratios to prove that the composition of classical orders mimicked the human body, thereby ensuring aesthetic harmonization when people viewed architectural columns.

Classical architecture
In classical architecture, the module was established as the radius of the lower shaft of a classical column, with proportions expressed as a fraction or multiple of that module.

Le Corbusier
In his Le Modulor (1948), Le Corbusier presented a system of proportions which took the golden ratio and a man with a raised arm as the scalable modules of proportion.

Modern architecture
In the following epochs he moved in various ways in Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Eclectic styles, including modern movement.

Rationalism refers to proportion, with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe studying the relations between the elements and the constructional details of his skyscrapers with classicism. Then Le Corbusier with the Modulor elaborates human proportions and uses the Golden Section for the design of the buildings, also used in Italy (Terragni). The “simplified neoclassicism” of Marcello Piacentini prefers the sequential rhythm of the architectural elements (arches, pillars, windows, etc.), but reverses the relationships by dilating them not on a human scale (tall pillars like the entire building, reduced arches). Even in the founding cities of the Fascist era whether the neoclassicism of Piacentini is adopted, or whether more Italian / rationalist or metaphysical roads are used, there is always a particular focus on proportion (see Sabaudia, Latina, Portolago).

Some more recent movements such as Deconstructivism, on the other hand, develop the idea of non-linear architectural space, deny geometry, axes and planes, making “order” their ordering element. The result is a non-architecture that rejects proportion, at least that designed in the traditional sense.

The lack of a matured and synoptic knowledge or theory is a severe impediment to the development of future architecture design.

Source From Wikipedia