The Golden Ratio, or The Divine Proportion, refers to the amount of space found between objects or the relationship between numbers. Found in nature, most stereotypically in the nautilus shell, the golden ratio applies in a multitude of contexts: art, math, design, and architecture and when followed makes those objects the most visually appealing.
This is basically the same as what photographers refer to when speaking of the Rule of Thirds. When capturing an image, the photographer divides their composition into thirds, then lines up the subject in the crosshairs of the 1/3 intersection. If they took this rule a little further, closer to the 1:1.618 ratio, it would be in line with the Divine Ratio.
Architects use the Golden Ratio to design because there is a science to beauty.
I’m a purist. I consider architecture to be an academic art, a science. When I design a space for a client I first look at what the physical requirements are. After that, I then design based on the psychological requirements. Just as colors affect your mood, so do proportions. The rhythm of your living space is as important in making you feel at home. There is a special order to a space that makes meaning to us. That order is based on the concept of the Divine or Golden Ratio.
Where to place windows, how to space out doors, etc. is all determined by the golden proportion.
If you measure from the floor to your navel and then multiply that by 1.618 you will get your height, more or less. In fact, the more closely you are in line with the divine ratio, the more attractive you are.
Last month I attended a meeting of the Huntsville Madison Co Home Builder Association. Each month they meet to socialize and network with others locals in our field. This time they put on a little competition entitled “So You Think You Can Build”, where small teams had to try and make the tallest structure out of marshmallows and dry spaghetti.
First we divided our roles into building levels to be assembled at the end: Ernie was to build the top with tall spire, and Alan and I would build a large base, and braces to help it stand.
The time limit for the exercise was 90 minutes, by the time we started building we had 45 minutes. With 20 minutes left to go disaster struck: Everyone’s marshmallows started melting!
We had to change our strategy: As tall as possible, as quick as possible, as stable as possible. With 10 minutes to go, we started again, Ernie back on top and Alan and I getting as many levels as we could beneath.
We finished assembling our sections – which reached a little over 4 feet! Just in time to be declared the winners!
… And then it collapsed.
As well as being 45 minutes of good fun, it also served out a few life lessons that have stayed with me in the weeks since.
1. Give yourself plenty of time to complete your project. When you rush, bad things can happen.
2. It’s always better when you have a group that communicates and cooperates when plans change.
3. Know your goal! As an architect, I bring my creative side to a project, but this had a specific goal and I had to prioritize.
4. Practice makes perfect! Because we practiced at our office the week before our competition, I knew what our priority needed to be to accomplish our goal – win!!! The heat however, was not a known factor and because of it our structure failed moments after the competition was final. Fortunately, in real Architecture the diverse stresses on a structure are taken into account and products are used that can withstand them.
All these things increase the odds of success in life and in marshmallow buildings.
Oh, and the last rule of all: Don’t forget to keep your marshmallows cool!
Have your family make the biggest structure you can using marshmallows and dry spaghetti, and post a picture of your finished masterpiece on your Facebook page, tag us @Scott Wilson Architect LLC and hashtag it: #marshmallowbuilding.
Scott Wilson Architect, LLC was recently honored at the 2012 QR Master Design Awards for a home designed as a speculative project for Mossy Ridge Construction.
The home has been certified by the Energy Star program and is completing the certification process for EarthCraft Institute certification. Both of these programs acknowledge leadership in sustainable (Green) design and construction.
I’ve always felt that green design can coexist with traditional design and this project proves the point!
The home features sustainable strategies covered in my previous blog about historical green design, such as preservation of existing trees and wide overhangs to provide sun control. Natural light from windows in every room (including the master closet) reduce the need for artificial lighting and also provide cross ventilation that reduces the energy needed to heat and cool the home.
The remodeled home maintains its historic character and continues to reinforce the arts and crafts style of the surrounding neighborhood.
The new deck was built around the existing trees to both preserve them and utilize them for sun control. The rear yard becomes an extension of the home via the deck and generous use of windows and doors for access and views.
Natural light from the stairwell brightens the hall to the Master Suite.
This project proves that you can build sustainable whether you like a modern or a traditional feel, and that you can preserve our architectural heritage without compromising comfort or performance.
We hear a lot about “green” or “sustainable” design today and I have conversations with every client about this subject at some point during the design process. More often than not, I’m the one bringing it up in an effort to find out if this is important or not to my clients. The typical response is that they have heard of sustainable design but are not too familiar with the details. The conversation then turns to the various programs available to certify green construction and details of the processes. This talk typically ends with the decision to consider sustainable options when making choices throughout the design and building process.
Sustainable building often focuses on reducing energy consumption, conserving water and other natural resources, reducing our carbon footprint and reducing material waste.
I have found that many of the most cost effective solutions for sustainable building are all around us, and we often overlook the fact that we can advance our building expertise by looking to our past.
Our ancestors had to build comfortable homes and buildings without the benefit of city water, sewer or electricity. They did this with some very simple strategies that are just as effective today, such as the following examples:
Line up doors and windows to allow cross ventilation, a gentle breeze can effectively cool a building. High ceilings allow warm air to rise leaving the air we occupy more comfortable without air conditioning.
Take advantage of deciduous trees to provide shade during the summer and allow sunlight for warmth in the winter.
Wide roof overhangs and balconies also provide shade and reduce the need for air conditioning. Properly designed overhangs shield the sun in the summer when it’s high in the sky and allow the sun to warm the interiors when it’s low in the winter.
This home incorporated stone salvaged from and old ship’s ballast, today we often use reclaimed brick and wood for flooring and ceiling beams. This strategy reduces our need for natural resources and also reduces our carbon footprint by using local materials to reduce transportation costs and efforts.
A cupola can bring daylight into the middle of a building, reducing the amount of lighting needed. If the cupola is vented, it can also create a natural flow of air to help cool a home.
Water conservation is often a major concern during summer months and our ancestors had several methods of solving this same dilemma. We’ve all see rain barrels and wells. Both of these are making a comeback primarily for irrigation needs. Rain barrels can be the old fashioned barrel at the base of a downspout or more modern versions of the old cisterns (storage tanks) usually buried below ground. These tanks were typically filled with rain water or natural springs to use when needed for drinking, bathing and cooking.
A great way to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of time spent driving our cars. Our generation was not the first to have a “Live/work” environment. Some professionals such as doctors had their offices built adjacent to their homes.
In general, building green or sustainable is part of our tradition and it’s a smart way to design our buildings. Now that we are aware of sustainable design we are talking about it and learning more about it, at an accelerated pace. We now have several programs that measure how sustainable we are, and help us share the strategies that work and those that don’t. Whether your concern is saving the planet or building efficiently, sustainable design merits our efforts; after all, being smart about how we build will always enhance our quality of life and will never go out of style.
If you’ve decided to talk with an Architect, you’ll find that time spent preparing will be very beneficial for you. Some helpful information to bring for your first meeting should include the following:
This may seem like a lot of work, and it is. If you take the time, you’ll find the process can be a lot of fun and you will discover more about your wants and desires, resulting in a home that truly enhances your life.
Keep in mind that this process is about dreaming and should be enjoyable. If the work becomes overwhelming, take a break and come back when you’re refreshed. If you get lost but still want to move forward, ask an Architect for help. He/She should be more than happy to assist you.
Most Architects will readily admit that many people don’t understand what we do. Most people understand that Architects design buildings, but there is so much more that Architects can do. My typical client comes to me because a friend, family member or someone they know in the building industry told them they needed an Architect and recommended they talk to me. The conversation usually begins with a lot of questions about the process of working with an Architect and what exactly they need from me. These initial questions often lead to a conversation to determine if they need and Architect and/or if they want an architect to assist them with their project. The conversation generally leads to the following criteria . . . .
Residential projects don’t typically require an Architect by law so for these projects an Architect is optional. Some criteria that should definitely direct you to an Architect would be . . .
If, after reading the above criteria, you’re still not sure how or if you can benefit from working with an Architect, visit with one and talk with he/she about your project – decide for yourself! It will only cost you some time, and I am certain you will learn something valuable in the process.
“The McMansion is dead, we will never again build with such extravagance”
This thought has been expressed many times during the last few years and it came up again during a recent planning session for building professionals committed to Green building. I wondered out loud if the thought was accurate and I have continued to think about it. I remember coming out of the recession and energy crisis in the early 1980’s and immediately seeing large homes (6,000-8,000 square feet) being built on one acre lots. We did learn a little about making our homes more energy efficient, but otherwise returned to our old habits once the crisis was over and energy costs were back to normal.
We have some interesting dynamics in the building industry today and I consider housing at the forefront in many ways. We have been hearing about building smaller homes for awhile and have also been learning how to build Green (or sustainable). Much of what we are learning about sustainable building focuses on making our buildings more energy efficient and in some cases totally self sufficient with “off the (energy) grid” being a popular phrase. Another major component of building green is to build only what you need, be efficient with space and reduce the amount of natural resources required to build. The obvious benefit of these concepts besides being green, is that they lower the cost to build and operate our buildings. During tough economic times, what could be better? Build green, save the planet, save money, everybody wins!
Another factor plays into this from a financial perspective, how we think about our homes as an investment. Traditionally we Americans have felt safe pouring money into our homes because it was a sure way to make a profit from appreciation when we sold a few years later. This comfort level led many of us to build more house than we needed or could afford. I have personally been in new homes and seen a mattress on the floor of the master bedroom and wondered why someone would build so much home that they couldn’t afford to have furniture.
As I stated earlier, I saw a quick return to extravagant building before, and now wonder what the future will look like when we finally come out of this current economic condition. I’m already seeing some evidence of building large homes coming back and wonder how many of us will continue on that path.
My hope is that enough Americans have learned valuable lessons from the McMansion mindset and will think about homes differently in the future. My hope is that we look at home as a place to raise our families, care for our parents and live out our lives; in other words, home should be the pace where we dwell and not be a piggy bank. If we approach designing our homes expecting to live in them for many years, we can begin to better consider every detail, every material, relationships between building and site and how our lives will evolve as we age. This new mindset could cause us to search for ways to design that will allow our buildings to support the way we want to live.
A recent example of this idea was shared with me by friends who moved to a smaller home for economic reasons. They realized that they saw more of each other and actually removed tv’s from their bedrooms and watch tv together, taking turns with who picks the shows to watch. They’ve discovered each other and never intend to go back to the way they used to live. Take that example and consider how you spend time in your home, how you cook, eat, spend family time, entertain, etc. then imagine how radically we could change our lives in a positive way through our buildings.
I want to challenge you to think about the buildings you live in and work in. Think about how that building makes you feel, what aspects make your life better and what aspects make you uncomfortable or inefficient. Notice areas that that bring people together or keep them separated. What spaces are inviting and give you comfort? Think about how you could make your home suit your lifestyle better. Make mental notes or better yet, contact me with your list and I’ll share some of them in a future post.