Monday, March 3, 2008

The Golden Rectangle

In furniture design some things are universal, waiting room chairs must be uncomfortable, the 1970's had the ugliest furniture of any period, and hotel room art must match the sofa. Another thing that is universal in design is that the golden rectangle is visually appealing. It shows up in every aspect of design, architecture and art. The so called golden ratio was first described by Euclid (c. 325–c. 265 BC), in his Elements , he defined the ratio and called it the "extreme and mean ratio".
Now for all your math geeks here is the golden ratio, "phi" expressed as a numeral.
Now if you are more visual than mathematical here's a way to make the
golden rectangle:

1. Construct a unit square.
2. Draw a line from the midpoint of one side to an opposite corner.
3. Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the long dimension of the rectangle.
Now, what this means is that if you have a dresser, such as this Harvey Ellis designed Stickley 9 drawer chest, and you have a width of 34.5 inches, and you multiply that by 1.6180339887... or if you don't have that many digits on your calculator, 1.6, you get 55.5
almost... now, lets not quibble over fractions of an inch but its pretty damned close. What is important is that it looks right, you know when you look at a piece of furniture if it looks "right" to you or not, this ratio is one of the reasons that something will have that look.
There are people that spend their whole careers studying this ratio, this is not meant to be an exhaustive dissertation on it, just a quick overview for you. It has been found in music, nature, genetics, biology, poetry, and popular fiction (The DaVinci Code).
Now, not every piece of rectangular furniture follows this ration, but I think you'll find as you look, that pieces that appear "balanced" to your eye will follow this 1:1.6 ratio.
Nothing can be beautiful which is not true. John Ruskin


Margaret said...

Great post! I always have found the golden ratio interesting--any scientific way to define beauty is intriguing (though I totally agree that it just "looks" right).

I enjoyed your comment, by the way. Perhaps I am from Middle Earth!

Steve W. Carter said...

Yet another great post! So many of us forget that there are universal truths which should be applied to design. This post provides us with the history and usage of one of these important principles. A very enjoyable read!