Architect's Notebook: Finding Comfort In Balance
It is human nature to try to find order and balance in our surroundings. One of the ways I do this in my own life is to be as organized as possible. My desk is proof of this as it is always arranged neatly with nothing out of place. This gives me a sense of ease so I can focus on other tasks at hand.
The concept of order is important to me and may have been what drew me to becoming an architect. Certainly, order, balance and proportion are all manifested in some of my favorite works of architecture particularly those on Capitol Hill.
Most of our buildings on Capitol Hill are designed in a Neoclassical style, which has an orderly design with carefully developed proportions often consisting of three elements: a base, a middle and a top. This grouping of elements gives us comfort in its predictability and creates balance. Things are arranged in a way that matches our expectations.
The base in classical architecture is often rusticated with a decorative technique that makes it appear heavy and sturdy. The middle is more refined to provide a transition before our eyes reach the top, which balances out the base by being light and delicate in design.
One of my favorite examples of these classical concepts can be found in the Renaissance Revival design of the Thomas Jefferson Building's Main Reading Room with its eight giant columns. Each column has a large, defined pedestal base with a smooth marble column as the middle and is topped off with intricate details of the entablature with its projecting cornice.
Architectural balance is also often achieved through symmetry. In the Main Reading Room, the art, decoration and sculpture reinforce a sense of order by the strong organizing element created by the monumental columns.
Each of the eight ornate Corinthian columns is flanked by a richly carved screen wall of Siena marble and support an allegorical statue representing an area of intellectual pursuit that is identified in the wreathed plaque immediately below it.
Blending art to architecture, the bronze statues nearest the column are of prominent figures related to its designated intellectual pursuit. Above each allegorical figure is a triangular pendentive, formed where the two arches that support the dome meet, decorated with winged figures that hold between them a large tablet with a related inscription.
Intuitively, we like it and it looks nice. The reason for this pleasant experience comes from the use of order, balance and symmetry in classical design.