The four sacred principles for design-
How to create harmonious environments
Scale, Proportion, Relationship, and Context
All architecture is based on the human form. All human beings, even primitive ones, eat, sleep, walk and converse. All architecture and furnishings reflect these human activities. Civilized human beings attempt to perform these activities with some degree of grace and harmony.
Over the millennia, harmonious proportions and relationships between human beings and their built environment have been studied, recorded and documented. When Leonardo da Vinci drew his “Vitruvious man”, he was echoing archetypal principles, which had already been discovered by the ancient Romans and Greeks.
The ancient Greeks believed in sacred geometry and harmonious relationships of octaves based on the seventh in the musical scale, as well as fourths and fifths that produced the so-called music of the spheres. Sacred geometry extended to the built environment, and it was believed that divinity created through geometry.
The ancient Chinese also believed in harmonious relationships between human beings and our built environment and established an elaborate system of synchronizations through the practice of Feng-sui.
So where does that put us in modern and contemporary society? Why do we look at endless arrangements of furnishings and buildings as if anything new could be created? It is necessary for a human body to sit- therefore it is inevitable that a chair would be created. It is necessary for a human body to sleep, therefore it is inevitable that a bed would be created. It is necessary for a human being to converse with other human beings, therefore two seats must be positioned for conversation to occur. We must eat, therefore we must have eating utensils, and by extrapolation, tables. If all of these furnishings are to be placed in a useful, pleasing and harmonious relationship to each other and to the human beings who use the furnishings, we then have interior design. Our endless fascination with the built environment is also indeed inevitable, after all, it is the reflection of ourselves- our body, soul and mind. Interior design and architecture has very little to do with “style” and “taste” and “money” as modern publications would want us believe. In reality interior design and architecture has to do with much deeper and inescapable expressions of the human psyche, body and soul.
That is why interior design for the human spirit is a pressing psychological and physical need in contemporary society, and that is why I am writing this document.
Let us start with scale….
The first sacred principle for design is Scale.
An infant is tiny. We place our infants in furniture that is scaled down to their tiny proportions, cribs and cradles and high chairs. Looking at an infant in a king-sized bed is comical, and perhaps even unsafe. In order for the infant to be safe and comfortable, they must be placed in surroundings scaled to their size. So we can see that scale is of the utmost importance in architecture and furnishings. Why are most standard door openings 6’8″ high? Because most adult human beings stand under 6’2″ tall. This is not to say that there are not exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, the 6″8″ door opening is scaled to the prevalent human proportions of our society. So after millennia of research into human proportion, we finally have agreed upon a modern standard for a door opening. Of course, if we wish to have a more imposing door, perhaps we will make it 8 feet tall. A cathedral or public space may have grand doors that are 10′ tall. But of necessity we will feel most comfortable with a doorway that is scaled to our proportions, and we discovered this many millennia ago. So scale is of the utmost importance when designing for human beings. It is important because it is one of the four sacred principles of design.
Let us continue with proportion ….
Proportion is similar to scale. But proportion has to do with the relationships of parts to the whole, while as scale has to do with the relationship of the whole to a greater whole. A well proportioned chair maintains its ratios and proportions whether the entire object is scaled larger or smaller. So with proportion we examine the parts to the whole, and with scale we examine the entire object as regards its greater environment. And architecture reflects the proportions and scale of the human body. Proportion is another of the four sacred principles of design.
Let us continue with relationship . . .
Everything in the built world exists in some relationship to something else. As a matter of fact, everything in life relates to some aspect of something else. Without relationship, we have no method for comparison. All of our perceptions of size relate to one object in relation to another object. So even if an object is perfectly proportioned and scaled to its environment, if it is not in proper relationship to other objects in the environment, things will look disjointed and goofy.
Let us continue with context . . .
In speaking and writing, we have a context for our descriptions. A narrative that is taken out of context can seem completely irrelevant if not false. Every environment has a narrative, a story it tells. So the architecture and design of a space speaks a narrative to us as we enter and look around. The site and the exterior architecture should tell us something of the interior space. In our own home, the interior space should speak to us of our deepest longings and fulfill our deepest aspirations. But there must be context. A single persons home may reflect their personality entirely, while a family home with four children may speak of that context, and perhaps the narrative would be completely inappropriate for the single person. All of these considerations must be invoked when designing space.
A methodology for creating harmonious interiors
1. You must determine the scale of what you hope to accomplish.
2. You must determine the proportions of what you hope to accomplish.
3. You must determine the relationship of your project to yourself, your significant others, your community, and the world at large.
4. You must determine the context of your project in relation to your personal narrative.
Your first plans should be done in black and white with rudimentary measurements. You are looking for scale and proportion, not a finished product. In the second stage, you can start filling in actual color, products, and specifications. In the third stage, you edit. Everything that does not enhance your narrative needs to be edited out. In the fourth stage, you actually build, install and finish.
The process of design should be uplifting and creative, not stressful and money-oriented. When you truly have realized a harmonious plan, you should feel that all of your emotional and financial energies have been well spent. In regards to this, a talented designer should also make you feel like your money and efforts have been well spent.
Marie Minnich, Allied ASID