Proportion is a key to classical aesthetics, but remains the most misunderstood aspect of architectural design. According to Richard Sammons, an expert in the field of architectural proportion, “without an understanding of proportion and the closely related problem of scale, no architectural endeavor can be successful in the aesthetic sense.”
Join us for a day of theoretical learning and practical workshops on the subject of proportions, led by three internationally recognized practitioners – Richard Sammons, Steve Bass, and Joscelyn Godwin.
Morning lecture sessions:
Beyond Aesthetics – Proportion as a Link to the Cultivation of Consciousness
Understanding proportion is key to classical aesthetics. But on further investigation, many of the same numerical relations informing the study of classical aesthetics also provide glimpses into the cosmology of Plato and Pythagoras. Their ancient system linked all elements of the physical and metaphysical worlds through the medium of proportion, or relationships, harmonizing seemingly unrelated aspects of existence. Seen from today’s perspective, understanding and practicing proportion in this way may offer a way out of modernist alienation, reductionism, despair and terror.
Theory of Proportion in Architecture Refined
Few will disagree of the importance of good proportions, but achieving it in design is often elusive, even for seasoned designers. As an aesthetic phenomenon, it is something that all can recognize, but why it works has led to numerous and seemingly contradictory conclusions and spurious theories abound. The one thing that is clear is that we are speaking of a physical phenomenon. We respond to an object as beautiful because of its physical characteristics, of which one fundamental component are the proportional relationships
This lecture will lay out a unified theory of proportion in architecture that can be practically applied in everyday design work. It will present a corollary to historic practice which will remove the otherwise seemingly contradictory aspects of the literature on the subject.
Musical Semicircles in the Architecture of Mauro Codussi
The buildings of Mauro Codussi (or Coducci, 1440-1504), Venice’s first Renaissance architect, use shapes and formations with a remarkable similarity to the diagrams in Boethius’s treatise on music that was circulating in Venice at the same time. There is no documented evidence or scholarly opinion that Codussi was influenced by these diagrams. However, the humanistic elite who had set eyes on both Boethius’s treatise and Codussi’s buildings (or plans) could not have missed the similarity. The coincidence seems emblematic of the mentality of the time, in which musical and architectural proportions were thought to embody the same archetypes.
The portico is the center and starting point for expanded classical architectural compositions. In this workshop a variety of applied proportional techniques for designing four, six and eight columned porticos using Geometric, Arithmetic and Harmonic Ratio methods will be demonstrated. Participants may, if they wish, bring compass, straight edge, pen or pencil, and paper or notebook, 9 x 12 or 11 x 17.
Compositional Derived Proportions
The workshop will be practical exercises in compositional derived proportions. Students will deal with the geometric manipulation of the architectural orders and briefly touch Romanesque, Byzantines and Gothic geometrics.
Theory and Practice of the Monochord
While geometry makes proportions visible, harmony makes them audible. The monochord is the equivalent to the ruler and compass, demonstrating the basic propositions that underlie the musical system, and their development into intervals and scales. If time permits, we will also do an experiment with paper-folding that demonstrates the rationale and need for tempered tuning.
Born and raised in New York City, Steve Bass studied architecture at Pratt Institute and traditional arts in London at the Royal College of Art. He has maintained a modest practice in architecture for almost forty years while also teaching at the University of Notre Dame,, the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art, the Grand Central Academy of Art, the New York Open Center and other venues. Steve also lectures widely for the ICAA in its chapters around the country. His book, ‘Beauty Memory Unity – A Theory of Proportion in Design’ is currently in preparation by Lindisfarne Books.
Joscelyn Godwin was born in England and trained as a musicologist at Cambridge and Cornell Universities. He taught at Colgate University from 1971 until his retirement in 2016. Beside his musical publications (including Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, Music, Mysticism and Magic, Harmony of the Spheres, Cosmic Music, Music and the Occult, and The Mystery of the Seven Vowels), he has translated the architectural-erotic epic of 1499, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and written on esoteric aspects of the Renaissance and early modern periods, notably Robert Fludd, The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, and Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World. Some recent works touch on regional architecture: The Spirit House in Georgetown, New York, Upstate Cauldron: Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early New York State, and Symbols in the Wilderness: Early Masonic Survivals in Upstate New York (co-authored with Christian Goodwillie)
Richard Sammons has a rich background in traditional period design and is an internationally recognized expert in the field of architectural proportion, having taught at The Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture in London, Pratt Institute in New York and The University of Notre Dame in Rome. His contributions include the forward of the book “The Theory of Moulding” by C. Howard Walker, and collaboration on the recently published book, “Get Your House Right”. Sammons began his career in Venice, Italy, at the offices of Antonio Foscari and then with David Anthony Easton in New York. He is a founding director of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America, a board member of the Sir John Soane Museum Foundation, and the Merchant’s house Museum.
AIA continuing education credits (7 HSW/LUs) are available for this symposium, and it counts toward the ICAA Certificate in Classical Architecture.
Advance registration required.