The human connection

It’s full blown spring here in Northern Ohio. Barbie’s Hostas are coloring the brown garden beds with pure hues of green. The leaves are perfect and clean and create a miniature forest for migrating birds. Wood thrushes, Towhees, and white throated sparrows flip over bits of leaves in the soft ground searching for a meal. New songs break through the rainy morning air. We keep binoculars handy in case a Kentucky warbler or some other winged jewel pauses at our rest stop. You can’t help feeling a connection with nature when spring flips the switch and everything goes from bleached out February gray to May Technicolor.

I think about connections a lot. Essentially that’s what successful design is all about. There’s a three legged stool that makes up a design: function, sturdiness, and beauty. The first two fall into the realm of engineering. That last leg – beauty is about connections. It’s a slippery thing. The photos we take are never as good as the moment of being there and breathing it. Those ancient petro glyphs on the cave wall never capture the actual excitement of the hunt. But they do possess some magic. They hold the power to jog the mind and connect back to that moment when a hundred thousand buffalo blackened the prairie like a sea.

For much of our western design history the classic orders were used by designers to organize a design. Corinthian collunm with base shaft and capitalYou may notice that often designs are laid out differently on the vertical axis than on the horizontal. Horizontally we may use symmetry (mirror image) to lead the eye to a focal point or satisfy our internal need for order. A door on one side of a fireplace unconsciously begs for a door on the other. We also may employ asymmetry to lead the eye to a garden view. But vertically we often do something different. Here we often establish a beginning, middle, and ending. That beginning, middle, and ending is an echo going back deeply in the way we connect with nature and our place in it. The columns that are at the heart of each order with their base, shaft, and capital were held to be based on the proportions of the human form. The Doric reflects a powerful masculine form while the Ionic and Corinthian are more slender and shadow an idealized feminine image. That base,shaft, and capital or beginning, middle, and ending shadow the feet, body, and head of an idealized human form.

Fireplace employs the classic orders

When we step into a room, the first thing we comprehend is the space itself. The ancients actually thought of space as an entity that effected how we respond to our surroundings. Next we take in the way the room is organized with walls, windows, doors, fireplace, furniture, even pictures and art. In a traditional or classical setting these component parts would employ the proportions in the classic orders. In effect the walls themselves, windows, and furniture would echo the human form. In a strange way the room could be filled with idealized human figures. At its core, that’s the connection we have with the classic orders. It’s not that Greek Temple image we have in our pigeon-holed mind, but the humble figure of our kind surrounding and reaching out to us.

George R. Walker

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3 Comments

Filed under Architecture, proportions, The Classic Orders

3 responses to “The human connection

  1. jlsmith

    George
    I would be interested in knowing your source for “The ancients actually thought of space as an entity that effected how we respond to our surroundings.”

    Thanks

    • My understanding of space comes from a number of sources but it probably best articulated by Steven W. Semes in “The Architecture of the Classic Interior” (Norton).