The tradition of symmetry in architecture

In the tradition of symmetry is woven clearly distinguishable from the Renaissance, but originating in the Egyptian and ancient canons, anthropometric tradition of symmetry, updated in the twentieth century. For the Renaissance it is characteristic not just to depict the human body, but to comprehend its regularities, which are reduced to numerical ones. Perhaps this anthropometry influenced the construction of the first organic natural imitations in architectural theory, analogies that were later peculiarly refracted in the ideas of architectural bionics.

These conventionally distinguished traditions – metaphysical, geometrical, anthropological and biomorphological – are identified in the likeness of concentric contours, crystalline structures, system of proportions, etc. In each epoch architectural symmetry has a special emphasis, be it the cosmological analogies of antiquity, the numerical mysticism of the Middle Ages or the idea of structuralism and typification introduced by modern practice.

Symmetry traditions are contradictory and complex with their ambiguous links to the facts of history that gave rise to them. For example, the statics of constructions is inconceivable without symmetry. Having originated in antiquity, this engineering symmetry in its transformations through constructions and materials, their improvement constitutes an independent, in its own dramatic line of development of architecture.

Scientific discoveries of the last century and technical achievements of our century inherit the traditional structural principles of balance, statics or paradoxically debunk them. This aspect of symmetry is extremely fascinating, but apparently modern problems of architectural creativity are more closely linked to a different tradition of symbolic symmetry.

Symmetry is able to portray special, non-experiential dependencies and patterns that affect the overall development of the composition, its scale, detailing. It creates a special space and almost everywhere characterizes the object existence of ritual and myth, those unnecessary, “absurd” ritual objects that we call works of art.

These objects were symbolic representations of the world rather than reflections of it, special in the sense that they were explicitly constructive in relation to human being, were instruments of translating biological qualities, biological structures, biological reactions and states of the human being into the human mode of their being. And this is a different mode.

In the interpretation of the architects symmetry like human speech acquires a certain intonation, becomes monologic or dialogic. Attention to the “speech” features of symmetry allows you to discern another tradition in the history of architecture dialogic.

The most capacious and dominant, in our opinion, symbolic role of symmetry is realized in the traditions of architectural language, more precisely, in the mainstream of general cultural communicative or dialogic function of the profession. It is not only in the dialogue of cultures, but also in a special understanding of creative self-expression as a unity of sacred, professional and secret and open, understandable and accessible to whom the work of architecture is addressed.

We can say that symmetry is a kind of universal code by means of which information of the outer world is translated and transmitted to artificially created environment and decoded again at its perception. It is not by chance that in XVIII century the idea of speaking architecture finds a support in symmetric subjects deliberately deprived of decor.

In general, architectural symmetry with all its vast spectrum of meanings pervades the very being of creative personality philosophically reacting to the surrounding world by reproducing the laws of symmetry. In searching for a definition, it could perhaps be called a kind of symbol of “man-creator”, who uses symmetry to assert himself as a reasonable being.

In this role, he is both an imitator and an antagonist of nature. After all, it is hardly possible, without a sense of some superiority with respect to nature, to notice in it any regularities, in particular symmetrical ones.

Symmetry serves as a kind of historical source to reconstruct the principles of compositional thinking of architects. We introduced the concept of “compositional invariants” in order to reveal more fully the structural constructive role of symmetry in the imaginative division of space, as well as to show its relationship with the philosophy of the profession in its traditional aspect of the symbolic unity of the rational and irrational principles, the artistic synthesis of the natural and cultural in the creation.

The attempt to reveal “out of experience”, redundant side of symmetry became possible with the use of symmetry method – semantic symmetric correlation of different knowledge concerning one phenomenon.

Non-classical (extended) rationality more and more often turns to it in building logical models of modern research.

At the same time we sincerely feared to get carried away with cause-and-effect connections and to lose sight of the fact that symmetry, perhaps to a greater extent than any other “statement” of the artist, belongs to the sphere of intuition and any interpretation of it is contingent.

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James Dennis