Asymmetrical Balance

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Figure 56. Symmetrical Balance in Architecture the human anatomy. Seen from the front, we are symmetrically planned, although there are minor variations in the shapes of shoulders, ears, and so on. Similar variations of a minor nature are permissible and even desirable in furniture design. In the desk of Figure 50, articles placed on the desk top vary the purely symmetrical plan.

Thus any type of design whose controlling or principal face shows equal left and right distribution is referred to as being in symmetrical balance. While the desk in Figure 50, Plate 6, is of a simple pattern, Figure 56, an architectural example, shows much more complexity; yet it is symmetrical. Analyzed, Figure 56, with more space removed from the volume than is the case with Figure 50, is an example of the well-known set-back architectural feature; while its mass pattern shows rhythmic progression or sequence, but with more variety than developed by the arithmetical 3-5-8-13-progression of the summation series. Viewed from the front, the pattern is nearly symmetrical. Figure 51, Plate 6, represents a far more difficult type of mass-and-space patterning which is termed asymmetrical balance, an antonym for symmetry, in which the masses are not placed in like-sided balance but nevertheless are planned to give us a feeling of equilibrium. If you bend your body out of balance, you restore balance by projecting another part of the body until equipoise is restored; the greater distance you push an arm or foot from the body, the greater is its power to restore balance.

In Figure 51, Plate 6, the heavy mass in its center is the body. On one side the top is projected out and, to balance

Figure 56. Symmetrical Balance in Architecture this extreme distance, three short shelves on the left complete the equilibrium. Three shelves form a rhythmic progression which is one of the most pleasing contributions to proportionate relationships.

There are no definite rules for either symmetrical or asymmetrical balance; it is a matter of feeling. While symmetrical balance is easier to control in pattern, many designers prefer asymmetry. This may be due to the sedate, dignified, and stable characteristics of symmetry compared with the active, restless moving qualities of asymmetrical planning; but each type has its logical place in the room.

Mass-and-Space Proportions

Not only must masses be balanced, but their proportions must be carefully considered. Under no conditions is it good taste to remove from the volume equal parts of space and mass. The sum of all spaces removed from the volume must not equal the sum of all the masses. Then, unless demanded by strict functional requirements, do not have many spaces and masses of equal sizes, or nearly equal, which is as unattractive.

By correct proportioning, keep the spaces and masses from appearing clumsy. Necessary complex details frequently may be grouped together as were the drawers in the child's cabinet, and thus count as one mass. Check all parts of your design for oversmall or overlarge masses which seem to be out of scale with other parts. Out-of-scale masses and spaces cut up the design and so destroy its essential organic unity.

Thrust Balance

In Chapter Three, the significant meaning of lines and volumes was found to be of marked importance in modern designing. Spaces and masses have thrusts or movements of equal significance, which, if incorrectly handled, will not only destroy the significance of the mass, but will give the illusion of distortion to the entire design.

By referring to the description of balance in the first part of this chapter, we find that the unbalanced vaudeville performer apparently was aided by our body thrusts. In a football game, almost subconsciously, we push with our team against the opponents, not only to restore balance, but to give a dominant thrust or push to our team, to shove it across the scoring line. On the other hand, there is a feeling of dissatisfaction if the thrusts of the home team meet with little opposition. We seem to thrive on thrust combat.

By an interesting series of parallels, our subconscious mental attitudes about the game illustrate our aesthetic feeling about design thrusts. These thrusts bring to design a freedom and freshness, life and action; but the thrusts must be controlled and balanced effectively or the stability of the design will be upset. Yet one thrust feeling must run through space and mass, usually similar to the horizontal or vertical character of the volume.

As explanatory of thrusts, we refer to Figure 58a, in which both vertical masses and minor details give a decided up-



Figure 57. Diagrammatic Thrust Patterns and Their Relations to Structure ward thrust and pattern to the design, balanced nicely by the restraining horizontals.

In Figure 57 are space and mass divisions arranged in various patterns. In A, we feel two dynamic thrusts at work, the enclosing vertical rectangle, giving to the pattern its upward thrust, while the slanting lines, 2, give opposing inward and downward thrusts. What is the effect? The slanting thrusts are so powerful that the top of the rectangle appears narrower than the base, although it is actually the same width, thus creating distortion disastrous to the structure

Figure 58. Thrusts and Their Effect on Volume

and robbing the form of its vertical significance. Clearly enough, there is no harmonious relation between the thrusts and the enclosing structural lines; the honesty, directness, of the structure is neutralized—destroyed!

How effective thrusts unrelated to the structure may become as causes leading to warped and distorted structure, is shown in Figure 58, in which a camouflaged ship has its volume completely obliterated, naturally by intent.

In B, Figure 57, the outer rectangle or enclosure has its upward thrust supported by the interior divisions. In this example, the enclosure and corresponding spaces and lines work together in the same direction, making the rectangle appear in its true, unwarped form, but higher than A, although of the same height. Here is an example of two thrusts working together for a common end, with very little in the way of horizontal lines as counter or balancing thrusts, a pattern in which apparent added height and lightness are augmented, giving more significance to the area.

Thus a clever designer may completely balance his thrusts; may make one thrust dominate slightly; or he may let one powerful thrust so predominate that it seems actually to push the form—to distend it in the direction of the major thrust. Interior decorators and dress designers use this effective device of playing thrust and counter thrust against each other, reducing and increasing apparent heights at will, but maintaining a balance and structural integrity.

In C, the thrust, 2, and counter thrust. /, keep the structure intact and in equal-thrust balance; while in D there is an equal or static, formal balance of all forces which spells monotony, unless counteracted by other forces. In E and F, Figure 57, are examples of thrusts and counter thrusts similar to B and C, but applied to horizontal planes: E shows an augmented thrust; F, a thrust neutralized.

Summarizing balance principles to this point, we can say that the strength of harmonious unity in the appearance of a piece of furniture depends upon the force and number of balanced movements or thrusts in contrasting or parallel movements and the proportions and number of balanced masses and spaces. Apparently thrusts have much to do with the significant meaning in line described in the previous chapter.

In modern design, each table top, shelf, inlay, support, shadow—in fact, all masses and spaces—exert thrusts which must be approximately balanced; yet we cannot destroy the significance of the volume. The following suggestions will aid in producing this type of balance:

  1. Some major spaces and masses must, by their direction, support the major thrust of the volume.
  2. Counter thrusts, while aiding to balance the major thrust, must not neutralize it.

Study the thrust balance of Figures 22, 23, and 58a, and, in these architectural examples, try to sense the thrust plan. A decided lack of balance and loss of structure is shown in Figure 58, a camouflaged ship. In Figure 55, Plate 6, the thrust is horizontal and dominant, balanced but not neutralized by the verticals; while in Figure 51, the same horizontal movement persists, relieved by the vertical upright supports. In Figure 50, Plate 6, the table top and dark base strips give a horizontal thrust, balanced by the vertical front panels. Note the support given to the major thrusts by the wall bookcases in Figures 50 and 51.

Balance of Tone

The modern furniture designer, depending as he does upon shades and shadows produced by spaces and masses, needs both lighter and darker tones to complete his balance and to distribute tones in such a manner as to augment the thrust pattern. Thus, in Figure 50, Plate 6, dark bands balance masses of shadow and distribute darks throughout the design to accentuate the horizontal thrusts and to advance

Figure 58a. Dominant Vertical Thrust Balanced by Horizontal Thrust

variety in the pattern. As in the child's cabinet of Plate 5, we found it expedient and more pleasing to add a band of dark tone to the base of the pattern; so, in a number of instances, a dark band or shadow at the base gives a sense of solidity and a balancing note to shelving shadows.

Here again, it is a matter of feeling as to just how lights and darks should be arranged. Each side of the project must be considered separately, yet integrated with the whole. The final result is checked by observing that weights (lights and darks) have been well distributed in balance and that the pattern, including shadows, does not seem to be too heavy at any one point or area; furthermore, that your tones support the spirit, the significance of the design, and carry out the line-and-mass plan of the whole, at the same time adding interest through contrasts. Current styles tend towards dark tones, either at the top, or more commonly at the base, of the volume; possibly at both points.

Color balance, normally considered with tonal balance, will be left for consideration with the final or form stage of design development.

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