Page 1 of 2

Symmetry and asymmetry

Posted: Fri Jan 10, 2020 10:48 pm
by SDR
We've spoken on the subject, batted it around here before. When does the designer employ one, or the other, and why ?

Many things turn out to have simple explanations---others, not so much. Maybe we could start here:

Symmetry is the natural form of things---on this planet, and perhaps in this universe. It seems to be Nature's default form.
And it's not hard to understand why. Balance is the desired state, the reliable state of being; it literally "works"---for creat-
ures which move, certainly, but elsewhere as well.

Asymmetry, on the other hand, seems to be nature's Exception that Proves the Rule. And one major reason for its ap-
pearance seems to be when a single part of a mechanism is unique to the structure. In the case of the two or four-legged
animal, it could be the heart, or the brain, or the mouth.

To maintain Nature's apparently preferred symmetry, a singular element would have to be placed on the centerline of the
object. This works for the nose, the mouth---maybe even the heart (if not, for some reason, in Man).

In the case of the building it might be the front door, or the chimney, or the stair or the bathroom (for instance).

But how many house plans have you seen where the door, the stair, the chimney and the (single) bathroom are all placed
symmetrically in the building---on the centerline, that is ?

I don't recall seeing this occur ever, even once, though I suppose there could be an example out there somewhere. Even
in his most thoroughly symmetrical envelopes, Mr Wright was not able to pull that off.

(And unless redundant runs are employed, the symmetrical stair has to be a single straight flight, not one with a return !)

So, there's the beginning of the path away from total symmetry in building design. Of course there are many other factors
which can take the plan away from perfect bilateral symmetry. But we see that a least of few of them will be present in al-
most every case.


Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:09 pm
by Roderick Grant
If you use persons for an example, the symmetry is compromised by more than the heart. Also included are the liver, stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, spleen and appendix, all of which are to one side or another. The symmetrical brain has asymmetrical functions. Visual symmetry in the human body is less important than balance; each side, right and left, must be balanced ... or we would be constantly falling over to one side or the other.

In nature, much is indeed symmetrical, but much is not. Mollusks are mostly spiral, not symmetrical. The cross-sections of waves are spiral, vortices are spiral. In fact, nature in general, is based on the Golden Mean, which is not always obvious. The seemingly bilaterally symmetrical maple leaf is based on the conjoining of two spirals, as are most leaf patterns.

In architecture, a center of balance is more important than bilateral symmetry. For instance, as I have noted in the past, the east façade of Hollyhock is centrally balanced, but not bilaterally symmetrical. The overall east-west line of symmetry passes through the very center of the west elevation, and through the center of the opening to the garden court on the east side, but the structure to the south of that opening is less than the structure to the north. The grand windows in the master bedroom are balanced, not by a similar arrangement on the north, but by a greater extension.
Picture a standard hammer. The head end is heavier than the grip end, but somewhere in between is a point where the weight left and right are equal. Or a fat kid and a skinny kid on a see-saw. If they want to make the thing work, the fat kid has to be closer to the fulcrum.

Bilateral symmetry is simple; bilateral balance can be very tricky.

In classical architecture that is rigidly symmetrical, the minor 'organs,' like the appendix, don't have to line up with the axes.

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:38 pm
by SDR

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:27 pm
by SDR
Jay sends this photo of the Goetsch-Winckler house, in support of Roderick's assertion that "In architecture, a center of balance is more important than bilateral symmetry."


To which I would add that in this plan not a shred of symmetry is to be found . . . other than in the representation of the dining table and chairs, or in the various pairs of hinged doors and sash ?


Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:34 pm
by jay
(Just so nobody thinks I’m taking credit for the photo, I saw it on social media the other day and saved it.)

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:36 pm
by SDR
Ah---the inevitable exception (which does not, in my view, ever "prove the rule" !): the pattern of voids in the end wall of the lanai.


Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 2:15 pm
by Roderick Grant
The pattern of the voids was inevitable. The only other possible arrangement would be for the voids to be of equal length, which would not have been as good. Bilaterally symmetrical or not, they were also necessary to soften the feeling of enclosure in the lanai. Sometimes you cannot get away from BS.

An interesting example of how FLW got away from it is in the double doors at Auldbrass. While seen head on, they are symmetrically paired, but since they are battered, just moving slightly this way or that, they are no long symmetrical.

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 7:00 pm
by Matt2
Wright always said his compositions weren't symmetrical but were balanced. Not sure how that is determined, but I always believe the Usonians have a taller compact mass (living room/kitchen/fireplace), then a shorter elongated mass (bedrooms). I've always wondered if you "weighed" each mass if the weight wouldn't be the same...or at least appear to be the same to the naked eye.

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:43 pm
by Tom
Anytime the Acropolis comes in for analysis Doxiadis probably should be mentioned: ... nt-greece/

Would be interesting to see if he considered sym and asym in his thoughts.

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 9:07 pm
by SDR
The following principles were used:

1–Radii from the vantage point determined the position of three corners of each important building, so that a three-quarter view of each was visible.

2-Generally, all important buildings could be seen in their entirety from the viewpoint, but if this was not possible, one building could be completely hidden by another; it was never partially concealed. […]

4-The position of the buildings was determined not only by the angle of vision but also by their distance from the viewpoint. […]

6-One angle, frequently in the center of the field of vision was left free of buildings and opened directly to the surrounding countryside. This represented the direction to be followed by the person approaching the site: it was the “sacred way�. […]

(Constantinos Doxiadis---1937)

Acropolis I, II, III: ... II-III.jpg


Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 8:53 pm
by peterm
Geography is almost exclusively asymmetrical, but balanced. Our bodies are more like planets, orderly from a distance, but the internal details aren’t. Architecture for Wright was meant to accommodate and comfort the body, never imitate it. I think he intended for his buildings to represent the structures and dualities (yin and yang) we observe in nature: forests/meadows, caves/openings, desert/ocean, summer/winter, mountain/prairie, earth/sky warm/cool, etc.
These “opposites� are to be found in the architecture of nature. I think he felt that balancing these elements was comforting for humans.

So within a structure, he attempted to achieve a balance of opposites, while simulating environments which might subliminally remind us of how and where we exist on the earth, within the universe, and from where we evolved.

He did think symmetrically at the Johnson Wax tower, modeling the building after the growth patterns of a tree.

Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:01 pm
by JChoate
Something about 'balanced asymmetry' as a visually pleasing and desirable state may be entangled with the Rule of Thirds idea that is applicable to two dimensional composition. ... hirds-work

Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:11 pm
by JChoate
redundant post removed


Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:12 pm
by KevinW
In Architecture, symmetry is a forced predetermined thing. When designing from the inside out, having the program be your guide, I can't see how the result on the exterior could be symmetrical organically without desiring it to be that way from the beginning.

Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:14 pm
by peterm
This all makes me think of the art of Hiroshige, whom Wright was particularly fond of. It’s difficult to find much that is symmetrical, yet everything is balanced perfectly. ... ition.html