- October 31st, 2008
- in Yachting
Divine Proportion – In the time of ancient Greece, it was believed that the god Apollo spoke through the Delphic oracle. One of those prophetic riddles still rings true today: “Man, know thyself in true proportion.”
In producing a painting, a building, a piece of sculpture, music, prose or poetry, an artist or architect usually seeks to achieve an experience of balance in the relationship of the parts to the whole. This balance, or harmony, can be achieved through the use of a system of proportion. In architecture, the whole is not just the building itself; its setting, orientation and response to the site’s light, shade, wind, elevation and materials should all be considered, to result in a harmonious and coherent composition.
A body of work
Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer, wrote The Ten Books of Architecture around 27 BCE. His work, a treatise on building, which became the chief authority on ancient classical architecture throughout the Renaissance, inspired Leonardo da Vinci to create the well known figure, Vitruvian Man, which brilliantly illustrates the proportions of the human body. Vitruvius wrote: “The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.”
Vitruvius expressed that a structure must not only stand the test of time, it must also be functional and beautiful. He emphasized that the ultimate inspiration for dwellings built by humans is nature; in the same way that animals and insects create their shelter from natural materials, humans, too, construct homes with similar materials to protect themselves from the elements.
The Divine Proportion
In almost every building tradition, from the ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans to the modernists of the twentieth century, there has been a mathematical system that governs the relationships between the elements of the design. These systems of proportion are often quite simple: whole number ratios or easily constructed geometric shapes.
The most universally used system is known as “Divine Proportion.” This is based on a relationship that says that “the whole (A) can be compared to a larger part (B), in exactly the same way that the larger part (B) can be compared to the smaller one (C),” or A/B = B/C. The mathematical description for the Divine Proportion is the Greek symbol φ (Phi), and its formula says that φ = (1+ √5)/2 = 1.61803.
Over the ages, mathematicians, philosophers and scientists, from Pythagoras, Plato and Euclid to Fibonacci, Kepler and Ohm, developed their understanding of this proportion, and discovered that it can be almost universally applied and observed throughout science, nature and the arts. The satisfying harmony of this proportion, which can be seen as a perfect description for principles of growth and dynamism in nature, has fascinated generations of artists, poets, architects and musicians, who have explored its secrets to discover ever new and exciting properties.
Contemporary architects should understand these issues well. As the primary professionals in the design and construction process, they need to create an experience that balances the physical design and environmental factors, and the limitations and possibilities of the site or the existing building. They need to look at the different elements that make up the entire building, and to anticipate its expansion requirements and capabilities so that its beauty will not be lost with a future addition.
Path to divinity
Applying a system of proportion to architecture is certainly nothing new. It is the manner in which design professionals achieve balance, harmony and symmetry in their work. The application of the Divine Proportion to everyday observations and measurements is where we discover that it is the common denominator that connects us all. This unique proportion guides us; it presents itself to us in nature, in mysticism and in art. Divine Proportion can serve as our reminder that our quest for regeneration and preservation of all that we know lies in the relationship of all the parts to the whole.
Steve Fox is Managing Director for OBM International’s BVI office. He is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited design professional and co-founder of the BVI Sustainable Living Network.
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T 284 494 2148 / F 284 494 3898 [email protected]
For seven decades, OBM International has been the premier full-service design-consulting firm in Bermuda and the Caribbean. Today, with nine multinational offices, projects throughout the world and a diverse team of experts, OBM is a global leader in luxury hotel/resort design development, architecture, master/town planning and interior design, with landmark projects in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.
OBM currently has design offices located in Antigua, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Madrid, Miami, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks & Caicos Islands, a strategic alliance in the Bahamas, and a business development office in Bath (UK).