Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Boston Manor in London: Harmonious Proportion Exemplified

Here are three photographs of an old house in London called Boston Manor. (Many readers will know of the Tube station named after it, so for your benefit, I’m talking about the building for which the station was named after, not the station itself!) It was constructed in 1622, in the Jacobean style; a friend of mine just sent them to me, saying, “This seems to exemplify what you have been talking about!”  He had just read the article called Monotony and Cacophony, the Twin Principles of Modern Design, in which I set out the schema for modern design and contrasted then with traditional ideas of harmony and proportion in design.

Here is the front view. You can see the three windows are in different sizes according to classical proportion. There is a rhythmic progression in the three different sized windows that dominate our perception of its design. This creates a harmonious relationship between each of them, in which the first is to the second as the second is the first.

It is a musical chord in brick and plaster.

Now, here is the back of the building. You can see that in order to squeeze in the door, the builders abandoned proportion in favor of three equal-sized windows. I don’t know if this is part of the original design or a later modification (I suspect the latter).

It is instantly apparent that this column of equal-sized windows is at odds with the rest of the structure. I’m guessing that these windows let light into a staircase, but I suggest it was a mistake for the architect to do it this way.

Equal spacing (or random spacing) is the design principle of most buildings built in the modern era. When the whole building uses equal spacing the result, as I have described before is dull monotony.

Surely there must be some architects out there who can see that you could use the principle of harmonious proportion in contemporary designs, and so unite them to the traditions of the past by applying them in a new way? Once we get an architect who works this out, he will have the edge over all his contemporaries!

I know that is a variation on an often repeated message, but the importance of this cannot be overstressed, and I will keep bringing it up until once again we see modern architects using proportion well. It is simply not an extra that architects might like to think about, but rather, the traditional way of embedding the code of the beauty of the cosmos into our environment. Mathematical proportion is not the only element that makes for this cosmic beauty, but it is an essential element. Any architect who considers him or herself Christian and doesn’t use these ideas should reflect very carefully on why not.

Clearly, this must be incorporated into our church architecture, but it can be the most profound influence for evangelization when Christian style is reflected in the mundane too - it is how we reach people before they ever get to a church.

I can direct any who wish to find out more. (And before you do so please, forget ideas of the Golden Proportion, it is a modern myth that it has anything to do with beauty!)

For contrast, here is a picture of that Tube station. As we can see, any similarity between this and the original manor is purely coincidental!

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