Volumes Their Proportions And Qualities

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Significant Lines

0.ONTEMPORARY designers use lines for their emotional qualities, their ability to sway our emotions being partly through their innate qualities and partly through associations grouped around them. In creating new forms and reshaping the old, line significance, its character and spirit and how it influences us, must enter into the problem.

Much has been written as to the significance of the horizontal line so popular with modernists. Modern automobile design has emphasized the long, horizontal line, usually unbroken from end to,end, as a symbol of speed in transportation. In architecture, the horizontal lines, as seen in structural steel, floors, steps, and so on, are expressive or significant of stability and rest. Our bodies in repose assume a horizontal position. Summarizing these facts, we can truly say that the unbroken horizontal, or a broken line giving the impression of the horizontal, stands for repose and stability plus energy and vitality; it is a positive, straightforward, reliable type of line, and this is its usual significance to most of us.

Modern designers have used the horizontal in every imaginable way, with its appearance in furniture integrated with its appearance through repetition in draperies, rugs, and other accessories, as in Figure 143, page 141, and constantly referred to in this text. It is a line of marked utility and beauty, fitting well into this age which requires both vitality and reliability; but, with changing trends, other lines

shortly may become predominant. Indeed, certain dealers seem to sense the decline of the horizontal as now under way.

Vertical lines, as in trees, columns, the human figure in an erect position, have more vigor than the horizontals, greater lightness, and a feeling of growth and support. As horizontals

Figure 22. Significant of Power and Activity

and verticals bound most of the volumetric casings used in this book, it is logical to believe that verticals and horizontals appearing as bounding lines generate similar feelings; but either one or the other must dominate or we will be trying to say two things, particularly if each type of line has equal significance. We must either say it with verticals or with horizontals, or the results will be confusing and the message conveyed by the lines lost in confusion.

It will be found that beauty and interest in volumes will consist of two things: the significance of the type of line we use, its associations; and the beauty of proportionate relationships existing in the volume.

Dynamic and Static Volumes in Relation to Lines

Volumes are divided into two classes, the dynamic and the static. The term dynamic is defined as relating to the effect of forces or moving agencies in nature. Thus a dynamic form (if it is to be considered as beautiful) must have significance, a sense of movement, of life and activity.

The antonym of the term "dynamic" is "static/' connoting a state of complete rest and immobility. A typical static form is the cube. With its equally balanced verticals and horizontals, it has no significance and has no message for us. Let us then avoid its use as a volumetric mass or volume. It is characterless and lifeless.

Figure 23. Significant of Security and Stability

But as we shall see, a clever designer may introduce the static square (one of the cube's faces) in a lively volume, and its very restful, lifeless, static qualities become elements of beauty. Used alone, however, the cube is considered of poor proportions and not beautiful.

The towering volume of Figure 3 gives a sense of power, activity, and elation, for the vertical line in its full significance dominates the volume. In Figure 22, a combined vertical and horizontal theme, but with the vertical dominant, is honest, straight-forward, solid, individual, but with dynamic traits and power.

Contrast these volumes with the dominantly horizontal volume of Figure 23. The horizontals are not sufficiently unbroken for much indication of speed, but there is security and permanence.

Thus, by controlling the height, width, and depth relations clearly enough, we are in direct control of the impressions received by others. For the sake of brevity, let us call a volume that is higher than it is wide, a vertical volume, with all the significance found in lines of that nature, Figure 24; while a volume, like Figure 25, is a horizontal volume, with its spaces and masses delivering a strong, lateral push or thrust. For clarity, the volumetric casing is omitted.

As an additional illustration of this point, a chair designed for comfort and rest could not well be designed as a vertical volume—its significance would be incorrect; while a chair for temporary use, as for dining purposes, is essentially a vertical volume, conducive to lively, vital conversation, to


Casing omitted a feeling of well-being and strength. This question of function and the type of correct volumetric proportioning is almost an intellectual study, but line and volume significance has passed the experimental stage and must be counted as an established fact.

But, besides giving the volume its significance through the emotional and associative appeal to accord with its intended function, there is the question of beauty of its proportions; for, unless the volumetric envelope has this beauty, the benefit of significant line will be lost. Indeed, it may well be claimed that a volume both with functional significance and beauty of proportioning has the richest and fullest possible significance.

Figure 24. Verti cal Volume with Upward

Figure 25. Horizontal Volume with Lateral Thrust. Casing omitted

Figure 24. Verti cal Volume with Upward

Figure 25. Horizontal Volume with Lateral Thrust. Casing omitted

Proportions and Linear Relationships

Beauty in proportioning plays an important, almost a major, role in modern furniture design. Modern design has been defined as simple in appearance, with much of its charm resting in the finest of proportionate relationships.

Proportion means comparative relationships of one thing to another. Applying this to volume, it refers to the relationship of all sides to each other and all spaces and masses within the volume. Proportioning even goes a step beyond the volume; it includes the integration of the volume with the remaining volumes in the room, a point developed under Unit Planning in Chapter Eleven, page 131.

Linear Relationships

Proportionate relationships may be expressed either by geometric or arithmetical terminology. For example, suppose we say of a line, "It is one inch long." We cannot judge its proportions, for there is nothing with which it can be compared; but, by placing near it another line two inches

Figure 26. Linear Relations long, as in Figure 26, A, there has been established a basis of comparison. Ratio (meaning the relationship or proportion of one thing to another) of these lines is expressed arithmetically as 1 to 2; while two lines 150 and 300 millimeters long respectively or any other pairs of comparable length, would be expressed by the same ratio.

But what are the characteristics by which these good proportions to which we have referred are judged? Study the lines of Figure 26, A, for subtlety and variety. Variety means intermixture or succession of different things, while subtlety refers to delicately adjusted and refined relations. Is there anything indicating delicate adjustment in two lines, one of which is twice as long as the other? The answer is obvious: the proportionate relationships between these lines is lacking in subtlety and variety; or, in other words, they are monotonous.

Now compare the relationships between the lines of Figure 26, B, and apply the same tests. Easily we determine the fact that there is too much variety and little delicacy. Compare B and C, Figure 26. Which have the better proportionate relationships? Usually any relationship easily solved by eye measurement alone is disliked as lacking in subtlety and variety, as is the case of the 1 to 2 ratio.

The static square has no subtlety and variety, and yet modern designers have found for it occasional use, particularly to reduce the activity of a lively design, and to produce a resting point.

The ratios so far considered are termed "linear/' referring as they do to line relationships. A rule-of-thumb method of checking subtlety is to divide the length of the lesser line into that of the greater. If the quotient is a whole number, as 300 -T- 75 = 4, the relationship is pretty sure to be unsatisfactory. A quotient of 1.61+ is one of the very best ratios we have. If the quotient is near a whole number, as 3.02 or 1.98, the proportionate relationship is characterless and indefinite and lacks decision, while incommensurate quotients are to be preferred to commensurate figures.

Proportionate Areas

Linear proportions are comparatively simple to judge, particularly if one is sensitive to the aesthetic qualities in these matters. With practice, ability to judge planes and volumes will become easier. Look at the two rectangles of Figure 27. Which do you prefer? Which is more dynamic?

While the relationships of planes as well as lines may be expressed by arithmetical terms, as 5 to 8, the relation of width to height, or the static 1 to 1, it is becoming common practice to let one term stand for a particular plane or area. This term is determined by dividing the lesser dimension of the plane into the greater. An example of this would be a plane measuring 100 millimeters by 100 millimeters: the quotient is one and this then always stands for a square.

Figure 27. Judgment of Proportionate Areas

An area measuring 100 millimeters by 150 millimeters or 1.5 would be a square and a half, with proportions of 1 and i .5, indicating little subtlety or variety and consequently not pleasing as interpretations of beautiful proportions.

Contrasting with these proportions are two areas measuring 100 millimeters by 141+ millimeters, or an area of 100 millimeters by 161.8 millimeters. The ratios of both are respectively 1.41+ and 1.618, both ratios expressing extreme subtlety and beauty with no equal divisions of the square in them, as can be seen in Figure 27a. Compare these areas with the square of Figure 27. While these examples have been illustrated by the metric system (by far the simplest system for studying proportionate relationships), tests may be applied equally well to feet and inches by reducing fractions of inches to decimals. Thus, an area measuring three and one-eighth inches by six and five-eighths inches has a ratio of 2.12+.

As in this text we are dealing with creative expression, it is best to use your own taste in planning proportions, as shown in Method Two, page 32, and then checking results by the arithmetical process suggested in the preceding paragraphs. It is true, however, that many individuals do not have a fine sense of discrimination in proportionate relationships, or are in need of intensive training leading to

acute judgment. For these individuals, the following sections have been inserted.

Justification for a Systematic Proportionate Approach

Further justification for the following approach to proportioning rests in the strong, aesthetic appeal found in arithmetical and geometric factors. Running through modern and Greek design, one discovers a distinct system of orderly proportioning by which pleasing and beautiful results are possible.

In many epochs, poets and philosophers have referred to the orderly beauty of geometric patterns; while the summa-

Root Dynamic Proportions amd Voluhes


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