LESSON 11: Principles of Architectural Composition

Modules, Bays, Rhythms

This lesson will ask students to grasp concepts of organizational structures such as grids and repetitions.  Students will investigate building elements such as colonnades, bays, and loggias. Through the exploration of building facades students will learn how building surfaces are opened for windows and doors and how edges and corners are defined. Students will learn technical terms associated with facades such as fenestration, soffit, cornice, string course, column, etc. by sketching them and labeling their sketches. Students will learn to hierarchically break down the building in a drawing, beginning with its profile, its organization, and its primary elements.

Shapes (massing vs. volume)
Students will examine simple and moderately complex three-dimensional forms and explore their outlines and internal relationships.

Proportional systems have been used by cultures throughout human history.  Generally, a proportion is a quantifiable relation between two or three dimensions in space – for example the length, width, and height of a rectilinear room. It is believed by many architects that certain proportions are more beautiful than others.   In particular, harmonic proportions which  is a system of the relation of small whole numbers such as 1 : 1, 1 : 2, 3 : 5, and so on can be traced by the Pythagorean theory of harmonic scale in music. Another special proportional system is the golden section, When a square is added to a golden rectangle, the new rectangle will also be a golden rectangle.  This system is illustrated by a Fibonacci spiral (really an approximation of a golden section).

DRAWINGS Golden section Fibonacci

Symmetry and Balance
As we learned when we looked at Vitruvius, symmetry referred to the relations of the parts to whole.   However, in architecture we usually think of symmetry in the bilateral sense, where, like the human body, one side is the mirror image of the other.  Bilateral symmetry requires that there be a centerline across which the sides are reflected.  Understanding how to use this centerline is important in analyzing and designing architecture.

We would think that all symmetrical buildings are balanced since both sides are equal across the centerline. Balance, however, has a meaning tied to proportion: a building with long wings and a small portico may be symmetrically balanced, but will feel imbalanced since the proportion of the portico feels too small for the building. In a well-balanced building, the proportional relationships creates the sense of balance, and yes, asymmetrical can be balanced for the same reason.

Borough Hall

Many buildings are organized as an assembly of several masses, each of which exhibits its own symmetry and proportion. Such assemblies may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Blenheim Palace in England is a composition of volumes dominated by the central portico, but where the wings are terminated by dominant volumes that help break down the scale of the large palace and visually balance the symmetry.

Buildings of complex mass are balanced and the connections between their masses are visually resolved. Buildings, both simple and complex, exhibit visual hierarchy.



Class Schedule
Lab: Meet at Greenwood Cemetery: Sketch two mausoleums from multiple station points. Direct frontal and side views will capture the proportional systems. Take photographs of the front and side elevations of at least four of the pavilions.
Assignment: Writing