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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 windows.
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.
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