Every well-designed building has a carefully crafted order flowing through it, like music, creating balance order and stability. You may not be consciously aware of the poetry of the order unless you actively search it out with your eye.
Alignment creates balance, and balance is one of the main principles of order. In architecture there is vertical and horizontal balance. When we think of balance, we usually think of two equal masses on scales, but balance can be judged by mass, gravity and “visual” weight. Visual weight is determined by the size, colour, and reflectiveness of an object or feature.
Symmetrical balance is the easiest to see and create. Symmetry is when identical forms are on both sides of an axis. If you drew a line down the middle of your face, you would have something approaching symmetry. Both sides would have an eye, an ear and half a nose. Georgian homes are based on symmetrical balance, with each side being a mirror image of the other. Asymmetrical balance is when one dominant object is countered or balanced by multiple smaller forms that have equal visual weight to the dominant object. Craftsman, Shingle-Style and Queen Anne Style designs are ordered asymmetrically, which is a less formal, more playful arrangement.
Just like in music, we speak of “rhythm” in architecture.
Rhythm is the repetition, or alteration, of architectural elements, with defined intervals between them. Just like notes lined up on a music staff, each with its own interval, so decorative elements are arranged on a home or cottage with intervals of space between them. A rhythm can be regular, progressive or flowing. Window placement can create a rhythm across a building. Beams create a regular rhythm across a ceiling. Sometimes the rhythm is progressive, such as a series of windows with each being one unit larger than the one before it. A flowing rhythm can be created using organically placed shingles that flow through the design, such as a curving roofline that swoops in from high to low
A Georgian design has a regular rhythm of five or seven windows equally spaced across the front of the building on the upper level with the same window pattern on the lower level, except at the centre, where the front door is located. These windows have to be carefully aligned to create this predictable rhythm, which maintains the symmetrical balance of this classic style.
A pattern may be repeated throughout a design.
Squares are a pattern that is repeated on each side of the exterior of our cottage. Each side has square windows, squares are turned on their edges to form diamonds on the lighthouse section, and squares form the stepping stones in the walkways created to ease your way through the gardens. Contrasting this are two nautical portholes on each end of the building, which provide tension and add complexity to the design.
The overall complexity of the design is created by the orchestration of the patterns and harmonies created through the materials chosen and the alignments and balances created.
In Muskoka, it is especially important to maintain the integrity of the design sustained on all sides of the cottage. This is because when you live on the lake you have two “fronts” to your cottage. One is for the arrival by car, and one is for arrival by boat. Often you hear cottagers expressing confusion about which is the “front” of their cottage.
Sometimes, in a subdivision, the sides and back of a building may feel less important, and may not have the attention to composition that the front of the house does. This is especially the case when the houses are located quite close together, and the sides are rarely seen or used. This is not the case with most cottages. Integrity of design on all sides of the cottage is generally much more important.
It is fun to take a boat cruise, or a drive in the car, and analyze the order designed into the cottages you admire. Look for things like shapes, patterns, use of built up trim to create shadowing, and see if you can pick out the complexities in the order of the design.
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