February 1, 2020

Theory of Proportion

workshop with Steve Bass

Tyler School of Art, Temple University
2001 N 13th St, Philadelphia

9:30am – 3:30pm, with one-hour lunch break

ICAA Members: $50 | General Admission: $60 | Students: $30
limit: 20 students

6 AIA HSWs available.


This one-day workshop, taught by Steve Bass, provides an overview of the concept of proportion as a design tool in traditional architecture. The content includes an explanation of the idea of symbolic or qualitative number;  an introduction to Pythagorean and Platonic numerical philosophy;  the nature of beauty, its relation to number, and its relation to the good;  the derivation of the ancient musical octave and its use as a guide to harmony;  a discussion of the Golden Section, its mathematics, geometry, relation to philosophy, and particularly its role as a geometrical “logos”;  and the connection of all these ideas to the numerical-geometrical canons of classical architecture.  These ideas are applied to the historical archetype of the four column portico, through demonstrations using arithmetic, geometric, and harmonic ratio methods of application in pursuit of the beautiful.  The workshop may be taken as an introduction to these ideas or as a review for those who have some background with the subject.

Don’t miss the other program in our Proportion Series! Beauty, Memory, Unity: A Theory of Proportion in Design – a lecture by Steve Bass on January 30, 2020.

Workshop instruction combines lecture and geometrical demonstrations. Students may take notes if they wish, either in notebooks or on loose sheets—9×12″ or similar size.

None. Workshop content is designed to be suitable for those with limited exposure to the classical language, as well as for those seeking to increase their understanding.

9:30am-12:00pm: The concept of symbolic number—Pythagorean and Platonic number philosophy—number and geometry of the ancient musical octave—a relation of number and beauty—design of a portico using musical ratios.
1:00-3:30pm: The trans-rational ratios—the Golden Section—construction of the pentagon—the squaring of a circle—design of a portico using the Golden Section.

Materials & Texts:
Participants should bring pencils or graphic markers, a compass, straightedge, and paper (either loose or in a notebook, 9×12″ or larger). Students may use wet media, pen, and wash if they wish.

There are no required texts for this workshop; however, this list includes books that treat the concept of symbolic number in architecture and art. They are either written for the beginning student or are key, often cited, references. Most are in print and readily available:

Allen, Jon,  Drawing Geometry,  Floris, 2007, Edinburgh, A good introduction to constructing polygons, providing a foundation for further study.

Bragdon, Claude,  The Beautiful Necessity, Theosophical publishing, 1978, A modern view of architecture as an expression of an occult Unity.  A good introduction.

Critchlow, Keith,  Time Stands Still, Gordon Fraser, 1979, Pythagorean analysis of stone circles and ancient symbolic consciousness.

Fletcher, Rachel,  Infinite Measure, George F Thompson Publishing, 2013, A clear, elegant contemporary presentation of the principles of sacred geometry, particularly the Golden Section, as they relate to traditional and modern architectural design.

Lawlor, Robert,  Sacred Geometry, Thames & Hudson, 1982, A key statement of geometric principles for our generation, written with dramatic flare.  Follow the workbook style exercises into the more profound discussions.

Olsen, Scott, The Golden Section:  Nature’s Greatest Secret, Wooden Books, 2006, Popular, contemporary exposition of the GS – good background for the designer.

Schneider, Michael,  A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, Harper, 1994, An exposition of the perennial tradition written for the contemporary general reader. A good book to start with.  Also see          www.constructingtheuniverse.com

Wittkower, Rudolf,  Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Norton, 71, An often cited reference and an excellent discussion of Pythagorean musical theory behind the architecture of Alberti and Palladio.