When I first learned about the so-called Golden Mean or Golden Section I was enthralled by the concept. I actually remember the moment. I was in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and just discovering that some of the geometry I learned in junior high actually had a use.
The Golden Section is a ratio (approx 1:1.618) that crops up in nature (such as the shell of a nautilus), Audrey Hepburn’s face and anywhere Elvis is sighted.
It also is supposed to turn up in great furniture and buildings. My efforts at designing furniture using the Golden Section or exploring furniture using the ratio as a guide always proved frustrating. Finding the Golden Section in great works is possible , if you looked in the right places, included parts of mouldings or excluded stiles or otherwise stretched the rules.
Now I’m not saying the Golden Section doesn’t exist, any more than the Trilateral Commission doesn’t exist or that a metal colander isn’t handy for blocking the transmissions from the mother ship.
But it just hasn’t worked for me and the pieces I like to design and the pieces I like to look at. Perhaps I’m not looking in the right place.
So after watching George Walker’s new DVD (“Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design”), I was intrigued that he didn’t once bring up the Golden Section, which usually at least rates a footnote in any discussion of design. Instead, he focused on whole-number ratios. And this afternoon, I decided to put his concepts to a quick test.
The cover project for the Autumn 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine is a schoolbox built using a plan from an 1839 text. The schoolbox is built to the print. There is no modern interpretation of the piece’s form. The piece (which we’ll show here next week) is perfect to my eye.
So I took a pair of dividers to the piece using Walker’s techniques. Its elevation turned out to be a perfect , repeat perfect , 2:3 ratio. Then I decided to explore the piece using the column orders. And the phone rang.
– Christopher Schwarz
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