Asymmetry

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Chartres Cathedral

Asymmetry is literally a lack of symmetry. It is usually defined in negative terms such as “objects that are not identical on both sides of a central line,” or those having a “failure of parts to correspond to one another in shape, size, or arrangement.“  It has been described as distorted, disquieting, out of place, hyperactive, tiresome, and threatening.

This blog post is a consideration of asymmetry in positive terms.

1.  Asymmetrical objects cause our eyes to actively scan, and our minds to actively evaluate the unequal parts of the form, seeking balance.  I feel this active engagement as stimulation, engagement, and fascination. Sometimes, a dynamic balance is achieved in an object; sometimes it is not.

2.  In addition to being a source of formal interest, asymmetry can deliver vital information. There are examples of extreme asymmetry in living things, such as this type of flounder, which has both eyes on the right side of its body. Other species of flounder are known to have both eyes on the left side of their bodies.  This is functional for them because they live at the bottom of the sea with enormous pressures causing them to lie flat.
Kuvalähde: Wilhelm vonWright: Pohjolan kalat.
CrabGross asymmetry such as that of the fiddler crab above can tell a story about a creature’s role, functioning, or habitat.  It raises the question, “What are the functional reasons for this particular form?”

3. There are degrees of symmetry. The human face is generally symmetrical, with 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 cheeks, and 2 eyebrows. Yet on closer inspection of almost every face, inequality of the parts is obvious. Asymmetry is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.

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Marilyn Monroe’s iconic and memorable face (top center) is admired. By mirroring just the left side (lower left), and comparing that to a mirroring of only the right side (lower right), we can see that it is far from symmetrical in structure and detail. Her facial imbalance gives her vulnerability and compelling beauty. She even darkened her beauty mark to enhance the irregular composition.

4. For human-made things, composition is a result of choices. What is the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked?” In the early 1900s, Kazimir Malevich, a Russian Suprematist artist, created elemental, abstract art, which was shocking and radical in its time.

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Here are some famous examples of architecture in which, as described in the four points above, asymmetry :
1. stimulates active engagement opening the possibility of stimulation and fascination.
2. raises questions about the functional reasons for its particular form.
3. is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.

4. raises questions about the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked”

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Thomas Crane Public Library by H.H. Richardson, 1882.

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Auditorio de Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava, 2003

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Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939

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Coetzee House by Emilio Eftychis, 2005(?)

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Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Niemeyer, 1996.

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Miyakonojo Civic Center in Miyakonojo, by Kiyonori Kikutake, 1966, Metabolist Architecture

Chartres Cathedral image courtesy of Wikipedia.

First photo of a flounder courtesy of TBD; second image of a fiddler crab courtesy of Google Images; third image of Marilyn Monroe courtesy of upscale; images of Malevich paintings courtesy of Web Museum.

First architectural example courtesy of Wikipedia, second courtesy of  Wikipedia; third courtesy of fallingwater.org; fourth courtesy of designboom; fifth courtesy of Wikepedia; sixth courtesy of Panaramio.

Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.

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 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.

Reverse Glass Painting

 grandpas sampler 1

This Art Deco painting was made in the 1920’s as a gift for my grandfather by his older brother Jacob, a sign painter in New York.  Within the 6”x 8” frame are featured 6 painted marble examples, 8 painted wood varieties, gold and silver leaf, and a miniature picture of their long-gone home of origin, in what is now western Ukraine.  The initials are those of my grandfather, Abraham Warshaw.

The technique of reverse glass painting is an Old World skill.  Unlike the sequence of ordinary painting, fine details go on first, followed by the background. Colors and details remain vivid, protected by the glass.

Sign painters of that time were, on occasion, called upon to produce faux finishes and other trompe l’oeil effects.

The skill and care that went into the creation of this object make it a family treasure.

This photo is courtesy of me.

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I invite your comments.

What More Do You Need?

Hot TubThese cold, dark, damp Seattle winter days have me thinking about ways to keep warm. I love this elemental hot tub. The wood-fueled heat exchanger is a simple and obvious example of form following function. The tub is a half-sphere, with squat legs and a useful side shelf. Cold water, supplied with a garden hose, is mixed with steam-heated water to regulate the desired temperature. The couple looks like they are steeping in a colossal cup of tea!

Once in a while, a designed object hits all the right notes.

It is only as complicated as it needs to be in order to work. It performs its job with elegant efficiency. Its material is well suited to the application and the material’s properties are appropriately exploited. The object’s use is obvious to the user.

Its form and function resonate with one another, clear as a bell.

The photo was featured on a Metropolis Magazine cover, sometime before 2003. The Dutchtub Original was designed by Floris Schoonderbeek. The quote above is from Sweet Spot, posted in this blog in September 2012.

Feel free to share this image, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Symmetry

Like butterflies, most other animals, and some plants,

we humans possess bilateral symmetry. We have a center line, with basically the same stuff on the right and the left.

Researchers of social psychology essentially agree that the faces we find most alluring are also the most symmetrical ones. To be physically balanced on either side of a center line is considered a primal hallmark of health and, therefore, beauty.

Just as we viscerally relate to symmetrical living beings, we relate to symmetrical objects.  We can discern a center line, and in general, we expect to see the same stuff on the right as on the left. There is a “rightness” to well-designed symmetrical architecture.

Symmetry is apt for expressing structural forces.

It imparts gravitas and elegance when used to mark transitions.

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 It can give objects a human aspect.

 Sometimes, for better or worse, the quest for symmetry can cause a building’s exterior appearance to take precedence over what the interior spaces need or want to be.

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A design needn’t be an exact mirror image to be symmetrical.

Symmetry can be as simple and serene as a blanket folded in two over a pole.

First photo of a Monarch butterfly courtesy of Karenswhimsy.com ; second image of Cattleya walkeriana orchid courtesy of Greg Allikas; third image of Vitruvian Man courtesy of Leonardo DaVinci; fourth image of the Eiffel Tower courtesy of Wikepedia; fifth image of a Torii Gate courtesy of Kate Comings; sixth image of The Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn courtesy of My Bank Tracker; seventh image of 1940 Packard 160 courtesy of Hyman Ltd.; eighth image of Parisian Art Nouveau entrance courtesy of Traveling Squire; ninth image of pup tent courtesy of Imgfave.

Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Sweet Spot

Once in a while, a designed object hits all the right notes.

It is only as complicated as it needs to be in order to work. It performs its job with elegant efficiency. Its material is well suited to the application and the material’s properties are appropriately exploited. The object’s use is obvious to the user.

Its form and function resonate with one another, clear as a bell.

This one-piece Lucite soap dish (circa 1975, designer unknown) is such an object:

View

plan

Plan

Front Elevation

Side Elevation

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.