It all sparked from a random, daily thought. I’ve recently been slacking off in terms of workout ever since summer has left our side. I know, just a bunch of excuses, and I’m really “out of shape”. Then a sudden thought came to me: is proportion and symmetry still relevant these days? A perfect geometry, golden ratio and all?
St Peter’s Basilica / Image Source: Tripso
I remember when I was sitting in a lecture about Renaissance architectural history, it was all about geometry, proportion, symmetry, and golden ratio, some inspired by nature or humans as shown in the classic Vitruvian Man. Do architects of modern times consider proportion and symmetry important and relevant? What would you say about modern architecture?
1. Symmetrical Design and its beginning
WTC Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava / Image Source: Dezeen
There was time when proportion and symmetry were the core and starting points of laying out the design, whether you start from floorplan or facade. They universally imply harmony, unity, and a sense of order within the building as well as with its surroundings, evident from not only the Renaissance architecture, but also Hindu temples and Chinese pagodas from the “Far East”.
Markthal by MVRDV / Image Source: Archdaily
The classic St Peter’s Basilica, our dear friend Union Station in Toronto, and the recently completed WTC Transportation Hub in New York; they are all based on symmetry and proportion. My personal favourite is the Markthal (Market Place) in Rotterdam by MVRDV – it brings me a sense of satisfaction from not just its symmetry but also colourful decoration representing the vibrant atmosphere of market. It is, however, becoming rare to find carefully proportioned, symmetrical design in modern architecture
2. Asymmetrical and free-flowing Design
Symmetrical design has gradually become obsolete as we are no longer limited to fit in certain “frames”, thanks to the ever more rapidly growing technology. Whether an interaction of geometry and forms or not at all bound by boxes or orthogonal lines, some designs go beyond our imaginations. For instance, the classic Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright is the product of intertwined geometric forms that allows the building to become part of existing creek. Also, the Grace Farms by SANAA flows along the natural contour of landscape without having the building to dominate over nature. Buildings no longer contrast themselves with nature, by allowing for more natural interaction of forms and existing environment.
3. Parametric Design
Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center by MAD / Image Source: MAD Architects
Then there came parametric design, based on mathematical, algorithmic calculations and variables to create a complex form. It’s been prevalent for at least the past decade, thanks to Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, the most notable pioneers of dynamic, irregular forms in architecture. Does parametric design ever imply harmony and unity? It’s an interesting discussion question because, according to Ma Yan Song (MAD Architects), the core of his design is based on Fengshui, a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing people with surroundings, nature. Its emphasis on spiritual and emotional relationship between humans and buildings/environments intrigues our understanding of harmony outside of “framed” notion of proportion and symmetry.
Going back to our original question: Is proportion/symmetry still relevant these days? My answer would be yes: not simply because it’s not completely non-existent in our architecture world, but it has been providing the foundation of design since centuries ago. It shouldn’t, however, be the dominant aspect of design and always leave the door open for better opportunities and ideas for the existing neighbourhoods and environment. What would you say? Leave your opinion in the comment!