This article is meant as a reference toolbox for home plan design harmony and proportion. The author prefers to deal with the practical how-to of it subsequently. The author, a custom home designer, suggests that there’s a place in designer home plans for age-old Western notions of unity, harmony, order, proportion, even Classicism.
Noteworthy, virtually all of these means and motives potentially applicable to designer house plans have been addressed in the literature and elsewhere principally to public or very large private structures coliseums, churches, huge bank buildings, and the like – rarely to home design.
The author has begun applying some very old ideas of design to some very new houses with success and surprises.
There’s a lot of reading on architectural design proportion and Classical design. Most of it’s not especially interesting clinical mathematics, nautilus shells and phyllotaxis, irrelevance borne of style, size, etc.
In the author’s opinion, these works are some of the better:
1. The heady, heavy-going: Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism by Rudolf Wittkower, W. W. Norton & Company, 1971.
2. The intellectually entertaining and well-written The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio, Broadway Books, 2002.
3. The commanding presentation of the Orders, their making and remaking in The Classical Language of Architecture by John Summerson, The MIT Press, 1962.
4. Of methods and materials, Traditional Construction Patterns: Design & Detail Rules Of Thumb by Stephen Mouzon et al., McGraw-Hill. 2005.
5. The thoughtful, The Old Way of Seeing: How Architecture Lost Its Magic (And How to Get It Back) by Jonathan Hale, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
6. The overarching [but not over-reaching, not hardly], A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction by C. Alexander et al., Oxford University Press, 1977 and its companion The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1979.
FAVORED HOUSE DESIGN HARMONIES AND PROPORTIONS
As to proportion and proportions alone, here are those presently favored by the author, mostly for their simplicity of expression:
1. Golden Mean, or Golden Section or Golden Ratio, or Mark Barr’s Ratio of Pheidias (a/k/a Phidias), or phi.
2. Lambda in Plato’s Timaeus plus 5 & 7.
3. Regulating lines (ou tracés regulateurs à la Auguste Choisy et Le Corbusier)
Subjectively, this is about balance, rhythm, symmetry, a sense of schema from illusive to hard rock.
For perspective, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Sidelight on Relativity by A. Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perret, London, 1922.
The practical use of these metrics so far for the author mostly relates – a) positive integers from 1-9 exclusively, b) plus Phi and phi, c) generally apparent and usually symmetrical lines of relationship.
Comment: The practical use of these formulations is to relate these numerical values and physical relationships
1. Whole, positive integers from 1-9
2. Plus Phi and phi
3. Generally apparent and usually symmetrical lines of relationship
4. The Fibonacci series in aspects of progression
Comment: In this designer’s opinion, you can get almost anywhere from here with ordered proportions using a matrix relating 1-9 to 1-9, keeping it simple. You know, 1:1, 1:2 . . . 9:8, 9:9. This home designer has also leaned into Phi=1.618, phi=0.618, and early entries in the Fibonacci series 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, Vesica Piscis, logarithmic spirals, dodecahedrons, and the like are fare for others for now.
Comment: Rule of thumb (not this designer’s, but he cannot recollect whose sentiment this first was, and he thinks that, though the first guy was talking cathedrals or the like several centuries back, the point is a better reference for home design than for larger constructs): attend mostly to ratios between 4:3 and 7:1 as the range of casually observable size distinction.
Comment: If you’re simply in the hunt for numerical relationships, knock yourself out: “music theory online: pitch, temperament, & timbre; lesson 27” by Brian Blood, http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory27.htm, supporting (among others) Julien Guadet’s proposition, “Les proportions, c’est l’infini.” Eléments et théorie de l’architecture by J. Guadet, Four volumes, first ed. 1901-1904, fourth ed. 1915, Vol. I, p. 138 ff.
Forming home design in a framework of proportion, the author finds that
1. It’s way easier to begin drawing with proportion in mind as a design premise than to attempt its imposition later on.
2. Complexity can overcome order or at least leave the practical realm when proportions proliferate beyond the 9 chosen integers and the 2 chosen irrationals, a/k/a while rigorous in harmonious design does not mean slavish, it also does not mean sloppy or obtuse.
3. Getting obsessive with this stuff can make you crazier. Enjoy.
4. There is a tendency to momentum, a propensity herewith in that proportional opportunities can present themselves sui generis with proportional precedent.
5. There arise practical limits particularly on interiors whereat function can rule.
6. There is no escaping a community’s inattention to these matters when a client demands the project must necessarily conform to sometimes hideous design choice points in keeping up with the Joneses, e.g., outsized windows, cascades of gables, unbalanced segments, predetermined clad and trim, etc. [a point which is mirrored in client or community insistence in ignorant or insensitive departure from well-expressed style], a/k/a give it up, the horse won’t drink; you hauled the water.
7. Whimsy accounts well now and then. So does artful, or creative; a little divergence is a good thing.
8. Don’t ever be telling yourself that those who have gone before you were slacking in architectural design efforts of pattern. Your barren ignorance would be showing. Even jobsite tradesmen not all that long before your time were steeped in knowledge of sacred geometry and Classical style [would that you are doubtful, sit down sometime with the photographed front elevation of a fine example of some well-know residential architectural style of, say, the late 19th century, and layout that elevation using a basic knowledge of harmonious design and the parts fit over and over and over again], those designers and builders being at the tail end of millennia of practice, practice, practice and respect, respect, respect for the craft.