Beauty, Memory, Unity: The Theory of Proportion
On the 5th of October Steve Bass, architect and author of Beauty, Memory, Unity: A Theory of Proportion in Architecture, gave a lecture and workshop on proportion at the ICAA's National Office. The course aimed to introduce students to the use of rational ratios (whole numbers) and transcendent ratios (such as the Golden Section) in architectural composition, and to demonstrate geometric, arithmetic, and harmonic methods of the application of proportion in architecture.
Mr. Bass began with an explanation of the concept of a symbolic number, and introduced the class to Platonic and Pythagorean number philosophy. Using a straight edge and compass, participants drew the four stages of geometrical creation: from a point (monad) representing unity, to a line (dyad) expressing division, a plane (triad) denoting structure, and finally a solid (tetrad) representing matter/manifestation. Mr. Bass also took students through the derivation of the ancient musical octave, and its application in architectural design using the example of a portico.
After a break, Mr. Bass led students through the construction of the pentagon and the squaring of the circle, which formed the geometric basis for Leonardo DaVinci's famous illustration of human proportion in the Vitruvian Man. As the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, for whom the Vitruvian Man is named, said of proportion in architecture: "Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members, as in the case of those of a well shaped human body."
Finally, students studied the prototypical example of the relationship between numbers and natural beauty, the Golden Section: its mathematics, geometry, relation to philosophy, and its role as a geometrical “logos” - defined here as the return to unity through division and represented by the Greek letter phi, Ø. Participants gained practice applying these proportional ideas to historical archetypes, such as the four-column portico through demonstrations using arithmetic, geometric, and harmonic ratio methods.