Saturday, April 12, 2008

1.618, or Ain't it Hip to be a Square?

"Mathematics is the majestic structure conceived by man to grant him comprehension of the universe" --Le Corbusier

Since antiquity, artists, architects and math freaks alike have been transfixed by the Golden Ratio, known also as the Golden Mean or the Divine Proportion.  In a nutshell, the ratio is said to encompass those shapes found in nature as well as the world of geometry which are undeniably pleasing to behold.  This ratio, 1.618 to be specific, has been used to quantify the beauty of nature, as well as ensure the transcendency of man-made art.  

The painter and architect Le Corbusier was so enamored with this figure and its relationship with the proportions of the human body that he extrapolated it into an entire manifesto, The Modulor.  He envisioned it being used to design the world of the future, in which all structures would mirror the proportions of this Golden number, and thus our human grandeur would be reflected all around us.

Le Corbusier consciously used these relationships in many of his latter-day architectural and furniture designs as a way to strengthen their visual appeal.   Many of these works are now considered archetypal and classic.  The concept of the Golden Ratio can also be spotted in the work of some of his contemporaries, such as Mondrian, Mies Van der Rohe, and composer Bela Bartok.

It's amazing to think that there are formulaic reasons behind our conception of something so seemingly mysterious as beauty.  But who's to say that the underlying relationships that hold it all together aren't just as beautiful?


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