Geometric Design Primer - part 1
In one of my previous blogs, I touched on the concept of "geometric design". This prompted
some good questions: "What is geometric design?", "How do I recognize it?", etc. I'll try to
address this as simply as possible, in a couple of blogs. If you define the word "geometric"
literally you get geo=earth and metric=measure. Thus, geometry is measuring the shapes and
forms that comprise our planet. Since humans have been experiencing the shapes and forms
that comprise the natural world for arguably millions of years, these shapes and forms have
been internalized in our DNA. Therefore, we appreciate these natural forms, shapes, and
organizing principals as they show up in our built environment. To demonstrate this, let's analyze
a structure that was undoubtedly designed with these principals in mind.
Here's a Catholic church in my town that
has a strikingly simple and elegant facade.
It's obvious when you look at it that it was
designed with some organizing principals in
mind, and looking at it tends to produce a
sense of relaxation in most people, unless
the fact that it's a church is disquieting to
them. Let's see if we can find the
underlying geometric system, starting with
the overall shape of the gable end.
This seems pretty simple. The gable end is
comprised of four identical rectangles, bisected
diagonally to define the roof pitch. The next
most obvious design feature is the window and
door layout. I wonder if we can figure out how
the designer arrived at that.
This is a very common shape in traditional
design, especially in churchs and cathedrals. The
pentagram is constructed upon proportions
called the "golden section" which is derived from
the "divine proportion", which I'll explain in
detail in the next blog. As you can see, the
points of the pentagram touch the tops of all of
the windows and the bottom intersecting lines
of the pentagram meet in the middle of the
doorway. This shape being so common in
Christian architecture would suggest to me that
the earth-based religions and belief systems
that preceeded Christianity were, in fact, an
important foundational element to modern
religions. (yet another blog!?)
Let's start to analyze some the sizes and
proportions of the distinct elements of the facade.
Here we see that the lower windows are the same
size as each door. You might also notice that the
entire width of the gable end is equal to the width
of the window or door times 10. If you laid 10
doors next to each other, you'd describe the width
of the building.
I had to wonder for a few minutes how the
designer arrived at the size of the upper window.
It turns out that if you take the windows in the
doors, turn them 90 degrees, and stack them
end to end, you describe the size of the upper
window up to the point where the gothic arch
starts. The height of the glass part of the upper
window is also equal to the width of the lower
Here we see more repeating design elements and
proportions. All of the blue boxes are the same size.
The rectangle describes the size and shape of the
upper window with trim, the lower windows to the
base of the arch, the fan above the doors, and the
stone steps. All of these repeating elements tend to
bring visual harmony to the facade and introduce a
peaceful viewing experience.
I hope that I've answered some questions about geometric design. In the next segment, I'll explain
some concepts such as: golden section, divine proportion, and root rectangle, and demonstrate where
they show up in nature. I'll tie architectural harmony into musical harmony, and we'll take a look at a
different type of organizing system in a classic building design. If you've found this blog useful or
enjoyable, please forward to someone else that you think will enjoy it.
Classic Architecture Meets Sustainable GreenTechnology