Proportion refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements in a design. The issue is the relationship between objects, or parts, of a whole. This means that it is necessary to discuss proportion in terms of the context or standard used to determine proportions.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man , 1513, 25 x 19.2 cm
Our most universal standard of measurement is the human body; that is, our experience of living in our own bodies. We judge the appropriateness of size of objects by that measure. For example, a sofa in the form of a hand is startling because of the distortion of expected proportion, and becomes the center of attention in the room. Architectural spaces intended to impress are usually scaled to a size that dwarfs the human viewer. This is a device often used in public spaces, such as churches or centers of government. The same principle is often applied to corporate spaces through which the enterprise wishes to impress customers with its power and invincibility.
Claes Oldenburg Clothespin 1976 Josef Koudelka Czechoslovakia 1968
In contrast, the proportions of a private home are usually more in scale with human measure, and as a result it appears friendlier, comfortable, less intimidating.
Use of appropriate scale in surface design is also important. For example, an overly large textile design can overwhelm the form of a garment or a piece of furniture.
A surprising aspect of proportion is the way ideal proportions can vary for the human body itself. Styles change in bodies as they do in clothing. Prior to the 16th century, for example, the female body ideally had large hips and belly. Only later was a small waistline stressed.
In the 17th century and many other periods, the ideal body was much heavier than we would accept today.
Of course, in the last 25 years the ideal personified by the fashion model has fostered a standard which idealizes exceptionally slender body proportions for women. In this century, sports have provided models for ideal male body proportions. Beginning with the rise of televised football in the 1960's, and the subsequent fitness boom, an increasingly muscular silhouette has been presented as the ultimate male form. This ideal is quite different from that presented in earlier periods.
In addition, artists frequently take liberties with the natural proportions of the human body to achieve their expressive goals. A well known classic example is Michelangelo’s David, in which distortions of proportion are used by the artist to depict both the youthfulness of the boy David, together with the power of the hero about to conquer the giant Goliath.
painter Fernando Botero often used distortions of proportions to create striking effects.
Adán and Eva
Fernando Botero La danse, En el parque1999, and Hombre 1969
system that limits incremental changes of scale to a single unit of measurement
is called modular proportion.
The unit of
measure, for instance 1” in a small paper project, is called the modulus of
The size of the
modulus is arbitrary, but consistent throughout the composition.
6 ˝” cubes
with a 1 5/8” modulus is proportionate to 4” cubes divided into 1”
typically build houses using modules of either 16” or 24” to space wall
studs, floor joists, and rafters, and to proportion the sizes of their rooms.
drive from three parameters: the scale of the human body, the strength of
lumber, and the economizing of material.
Standard 4’ x 8’ pieces of plywood or sheet rock divide evenly by both of these modules. Just as important, the repeated use of the same modulus supplies proportional order to the architectural design.
The current LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system was patented in 1958 (Design Patent #92683)
Lincoln Logs were first marketed in the early 1920's by John Lloyd Wright Inc., of Chicago.
Fascinated with the interlocking building system used to construct Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, which had been designed by his famous father, Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1917, architect John Lloyd Wright created the first Lincoln Logs in the very same year. The sets were named after Abraham Lincoln in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
The simple sets could be used for building log cabins that were indeed similar to one Lincoln might have lived in. Later sets became more elaborate and could be used to build forts and other more elaborate structures. Although the conventional Lincoln Log was round, square logs and even bricks were also sold.
Proportion can also be based on mathematical ratios. In ratio proportion the relative scale of one element to another is expressed as a ratio.
The Golden Section, expressed by the ratio 1:1.618, has been utilized in design as far back as construction of the Egyptian pyramids. Its remarkable and elegantly complex properties appear repeatedly in both architecture and in nature.
Golden Section is also known as the Golden Mean, Golden Ratio and Divine
Proportion. It is a ratio or proportion defined by the number Phi
can be derived with a number of geometric
constructions, each of which divides a line segment at the unique
ratio of the whole line (A) to the large segment (B) is the same as the ratio of
the large segment (B) to the small segment (C).
other words, A is to B as B is to C.
occurs only where A is 1.618... times B and B is 1.618... times C.
ratio has been used by mankind for centuries . Its
use started as early as with the Egyptians in the design of the pyramids.
Some of the pyramids indicate an accurate understanding of Pi, but the
mathematical knowledge of the Egyptians did not include the ability to arrive at
this by calculation. It is possible that this could have been arrived at
"accidentally" through a means such as counting the revolutions of a
. Its use started as early as with the Egyptians in the design of the pyramids.The Greeks knew it as the Golden Section and used it in the design of architecture
Some of the pyramids indicate an accurate understanding of Pi, but the mathematical knowledge of the Egyptians did not include the ability to arrive at this by calculation. It is possible that this could have been arrived at "accidentally" through a means such as counting the revolutions of a drum.
As the Golden
Section is found in the design and beauty of nature, it can also be used to
achieve beauty and balance in the design of art. This is only a tool
though, and not a rule, for composition.
The Golden Section
was used extensively by Leonardo Da Vinci. Note how all the key dimensions
of the room and the table in Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" were based
on the Golden Section, which was known in the Renaissance period as The Divine
Leonardo da Vinci The Last Supper (after cleaning), 1498, 460 x 880 cm
French impressionist painter Georges Seurat is said to have
"attacked every canvas by the golden section," as illustrated here:
that successive divisions of each section of the painting by the golden section
define the key elements of composition. This principle is illustrated in
the "Golden Ruler™" below:
horizon falls exactly at the golden section of the height of the painting.
The trees and people are placed at golden sections of smaller sections of the