Friday, March 20, 2009

Size, Scale, Proportion

The subject of size, scale and proportion is discussed at various places in this book. Here we draw attention to some general aspects concerning which there are no universal aesthetic rules in art. A short poem or a miniature painting may be of the same high aesthetic value as monumental creations, like War and Peace by Tolstoy, the paintings in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. This applies to architecture also. The Il Tempietto in Rome by Bramante is just as much a masterpiece as the Saint Peter Basilica also in Rome. Driven to the extremes of small or huge size, a work may be admired not so much for its aesthetic value as for the expertise in producing it in such minuscule or enormous dimensions. At the one extreme small elaborate sculptures in ivory or miniature paintings may serve as models. At the other extreme skyscrapers, pyramids, long-span suspension bridges, may serve as models. The opposite of what was previously said is also true: size in itself may not disqualify any art object from aesthetic appreciation.

Size, and other related characteristic categories – such as scale, proportion – must harmonize, however, in some measure with the actual expectations of people, or, on the contrary, be convincing with their new, and possibly revolutionary, characteristic features. Technological aspects have a function here. The cathedrals from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries utilized to the full the technological potentials of their period. Cathedrals with a similar stylistic approach but built in the nineteenth century (St Vlasius in the Black Forest region, Germany) or in the twentieth century (Notre Dame de la Paix in Yamassoukrou, Ivory Coast) evince admiration for their sheer size but the anachronism between style and the period of design and realization acts adversely. As has been stated earlier new architecture has very much altered perception of size: skyscrapers and wide-span structures have been widely accepted.

Similar statements as for size may be made for scale and proportion. Absolute size and relationships of size may be very different from what was generally acceptable in historical styles.

First Interstate Bank Tower, Dallas, USA, 1985, architect: Henry N. Cobb.
Uninterrupted largescale slanting glass facade (unknown in historical architecture).

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.

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