Architecture (Latin architectura, from Greek, architekton) is the art building according to principles which are determined, not merely by the ends the edifice is intended to serve, but by the consideration of beauty and harmony. It cannot be defined as the art of building simply, or even building well. The end of building as such is convenience, use, irrespective of appearance; and the employment of material to this end is regulated by the mechanical principles of constructive art. The end of architecture as an art, on the other hand, is to arrange the plan, masses and enrichment of structure as to impart to it interest, beauty, grandeur, unity, and power. Architecture thus necessitates the possession by the builder of gifts of imagination as well as the technical skill, and in all work of architecture properly so called these elements must exist, and in be harmoniously combined. The combination of technical wit imaginative feature s remove architecture from the precise position occupied by painting, sculpture, and music, but does this more appearance than in reality, since the greatest works of architecture must always be those in which the imagination of the artist is most plainly seen.
Like the other arts, architecture did not spring to into existence at an early period of man’s history. The ideas of symmetry and proportion which are afterwards embodied in material structure could not be evolved until at a least of moderate degree of civilization had been attained, while the efforts of primitive man is the construction of dwellings must have been first determined solely by physical wants. Only after these had been provided for, and materials amassed on which his imagination must exercise itself, would he begin to plan and erect structures, possessing not only utility, but also grandeur beauty. Before proceeding to inquire into the history of architecture, it maybe well to enumerate briefly the elements which in combination from the architectural perfection of a building. These elements have been variously determined by different authorities. Vitruvius the only ancient writer on the art whose works have come down to us, lays down three qualities as indispensable in a fine building, viz., Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas, stability, utility and beauty. In an architectural point of view the last is the principal, though not the sole element; and, accordingly, the theory of architecture is occupied for the most part with aesthetic consideration, of principles and beauty in designing. Of such principles or qualities the following appear to be the most important: size, proportion, harmony and symmetry, ornament, and color. All other element may be reduced under one or other of these heads.
Elements of Architecture: Size; Proportion; Harmony; Symmetry
With regard to first quality [size], it is clear that, as the feeling of power is a source of the keenest pleasure, size, or vastness of proportion, will not only excite in the mind of man the feelings of awe with which he regards the sublime in nature, but will impress him with a deep sense of the majesty of human power. It is, therefore, a double source of pleasure. The feelings, with which we regard the Pyramid of Egypt, the vast monoliths at Rome, the massive temple of Sicily and the Parthenon, and the huge structure of Stonehenge, sufficiently attest the truth of this principle.
The qualities in general disposition of parts of a building which calculated to give pleasure to the beholder are proportion, harmony, and symmetry. To obtain a clear idea of general plan in order to appreciate these qualities, the best method is to contemplate the building under conditions that prevent the mind from being disturbed by the consideration of details- at a distance, for instance, or moonlight, when its out lines may be seen standing boldly out against the sky. Thus the mass of Gothic cathedral, the proportion of its parts, the outline of tower, nave, choir and lady chapel, the deep shadows which show projection of recess of its various parts, are in them selves beautiful even when there is not light enough the distinguish moldings, carvings, or tracery.
Proportion itself depends essentially upon the employment of mathematical ratios in dimension of a building. It is curious but significant fact that such proportion as those of an exact cube, or of two cubes placed side by side – dimension increasing by one half (e.g., 20 feet high, 30 wide and 45 long) – or the ratios of the base, perpendicular, hypotenuse of a right triangle (e.g. 3, 4, 5, or their multiples) – please the eye more dimension taken at random. No defect is more glaring or more unpleasant than want of proportion. The Gothic architects appear to have been guided in their design by proportion based on the equilateral triangle.
By harmony meant the general balancing of several parts of the design. It is proportion applied to the mutual relations of the details. Thus, supported parts should have an adequate ratio to their supports, and the same should be the case with solid voids. Due attention to proportion and harmony gives appearance of stability repose which is indispensable to a really fine building. Symmetry is uniformity of plan, and, when not carry to excess, is undoubtedly effective. But a building too rigorously symmetrical is apt to appear cold and tasteless. Such symmetry of general plan, with diversity detail, as is presented to us leaves, animals, and other natural objects is probably between excesses of two opposing schools.