Terrific Quote About Architecture


The following from Mark Helprin stands alone:

“Music is the most beautiful city. All its elements are variations of proportion—the tempo, the frequency, and the strength of the notes, counterpoint, resonance, melodic structure, and whatever other patterns can be read or imposed. Music can convey the ineffable, and other burdens, and like a city, it makes sense and order from seemingly anarchic elements brought together in thematic repetition subject to the rules of proportion.

Poetry is no less dependent upon the breaks and spaces in melodic sound, weighted with a thousand categories of association. And painting depends not only on what is commonly understood as proportion but also on the proportional division of light into what we call color. 

Needless to say, proportion and symmetry are to architecture what water is to rain. Their effects are not an idea or theory, but purely empirical. Certain proportions have certain effects. Some are pleasing and some are not. When the architect has it right, you feel aesthetic pleasure in exactly the same way that you do when you listen to music or stare at a Raphael. The right proportions trigger something in your soul, something in your accumulated experience, something in both the part of you that you know and control and in that which you do not know and do not control, and a feeling takes hold (whether it is a chemical that blocks receptors or not is unimportant) that lifts you beyond life in this world. 

The effective proportions are astoundingly versatile. They can inform and illumine any style of building, whether it has architraves or escalators. That which is so beautifully expressed in classicism is fully translatable into other styles. If it seldom is, it isn’t the fault of variation but of architects who accomplish the variation improperly. Although the proportions that work are there for the taking, most architects simply do not try to find them, perhaps because the fashion is to disdain the kind of instinctive beauty that need not be explained, in favor of ephemeral theories crafted for the sake of individual buildings to which they do not even adhere beyond the time that the architect is there with his mouth open.”  

Found on page 115 Helprin, Mark. Visionary San Francisco. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1990.edited by Paolo Polledri


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