This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
Composition. It is impossible to formulate laws of composition which, even if faithfully observed, will absolutely insure satisfactory results. That is to say, any work of art - such as a picture, a statue, or a building - may comply with all the general laws of composition and still not be really artistic.
A great deal depends on the feeling of the designer. A carpenter may make a cornice for the exterior of a house, or a mantel-piece for the interior, without having been taught any of the formal laws of composition; and nevertheless, by careful study and through the desire to build something pleasing, may produce something much more artistic than the most carefully wrought effort of a designer who knows all these so-called laws but lacks all artistic feeling.
Workmen in the various trades can assist the architect materially in producing an artistic result. One of the most desirable characteristics in a workman is that he shall execute the wishes of the owner as expressed in the architect's drawings, and carry them out as artistically as possible in every detail. There is a certain character in every piece of work which every workman should try to understand and carry out in a simple, frank, decisive, and straightforward way. Every workman feels the value of truthfulness in work, and objects to sham in doing good work.
Turner, the great English painter, was a man who did everything that he had to do, no matter how trivial, well. John Ruskin says of him, in his lectures on architecture and painting:
"He took a poor price that he might live; but he made noble drawings that he might learn. He never let a drawing leave his hands without having made a step in advance and having dene better in it than he had ever done before."
Composition is the art of bringing together various interesting details, so that the whole result will be harmonious and pleasing.
The important features should be on axes, or grouped symmetrically on either side of an imaginary center line. For instance, in a room, if the fire place is to be one of the features, it should be centered on one of the axes of the room. The remaining features should be arranged with relation to the axes or center lines of the room so that as a mass they will balance each other.
In a good composition some single feature should dominate - for example, in a building, the main gable, or a tower, or a long, simple roof line; or in a room, the fireplace or a painting; etc. In decorating a house, the general effect should be pleasing, and should not be too much broken up by spotted details. There must not be too many equally interesting points; otherwise the result is either monotony or competition; one point must dominate. There must not, for example, be other gables competing with the main gable by being too near the size of the main gable. For the same reason it is better to group windows and other features in odd numbers and accent the central one.
It is well to think of the location of the different interesting points. In a cottage - to take an example - the gable that is seen from the best point of view should be near the center of the perspective; or, again, a tower should not be isolated or appear so much at one side from the best point of view that it will look as if disconnected from the house.
The smaller parts of the composition should have a proper relation to the main motive. The dormers, for instance, in a cottage, should be in the same style as the main gable, or in harmony with the style.
Nevertheless, all these different parts must be used so that there will be some contrast, in order to give life and interest to the composition. No detail from a different style, however, should be brought in without the designer being sure that the harmony of the composition is not thereby disturbed. To learn how to compose, it is not sufficient to study books and receive instruction in the school or in the drafting room; the student must supplement this with the study of nature and of objects and buildings themselves.
Scale. The word "scale" has been used to designate a measure of distance - for example, a scale of one-quarter of an inch to a foot.
"Scale" is used also in another sense - that is, to designate the appearance of a building or any artistic composition, which, without considering the actual dimensions, gives us an idea of the size For example, in the two sketches A and B (Fig. 25) the two vases have the same proportion; but one is a huge decorative vase standing at the side of a fireplace, while the other is a small vase standing on a table.
It requires the books and other details of well known dimensions to suggest the small scale of the one, and the mantel-piece to suggest the scale of the other. The same principle is seen in doors and windows, in the effect of steps in front of a building, in balustrades, and in all details with which we are familiar in our daily life.
A drawing is "large in scale" when it appears to be drawn at a larger scale than has been really used; for example, a drawing of a building might look as if it were laid out at quarter-inch scale when it was really laid out at one-eighth-inch scan. If such a building were erected, it would be much larger than the drawing would indicate. On the other hand, if it is "small in scale," the details are too small and the building will appear as if it were built for dwarfs.
The materials used in construction affect the scale of a building-such as sizes of brick, stone, clapboards, etc. Arches span larger spaces than lintels; iron construction needs fewer supports than stone construction. The detail should be somewhat larger in scale in the upper part of a building, where it is seen from the ground, from what it is in the lower portion near the observer. Interior detail should be finer and smaller than exterior detail.
Statuary, when called "life-size," is actually made about one-quarter of the height larger than life size. The reason for this is that objects in the open air, or in large spaces, look smaller than they actually are. The size also depends largely on the height from the ground.
If a building does not appear to be in good scale - that is, if the drawing does not suggest the actual size of the building (which may be tested by sketching in a figure of a man, and measuring to see if the house is in scale or not), the detail should be studied to see that it is not too large or too small; other details may be added, such as steps or balustrades; or, if the design is an interior, the walls may be decorated with natural objects in the right scale. Anything that will suggest the height of the human figure may be used, or stone joints and other suggestions of material may be made more evident.
Ornament. Architectural ornament is the decorative treatment of architectural motives on a building. The ornament should be carefully studied on the small-scale designs, and worked up from these to the working drawings.
All ornamentation or decoration should be drawn out on each design, and particularly on the small-scale drawings, even if it is to be carried out by other designers, modelers, or decorators; for it should be remembered that the one man who is to bring together into a single composition all the elements of a design, is the Architect. The decoration, whether sculptured or painted, is executed either from scale details or full-size drawings, by the decorator or sculptor. If any change is made from the main lines of the design, this change should be studied on the small-scale drawings; otherwise it may be found that the detail is entirely out of scale with the general architectural lines.
It should be clearly understood that, loading a building, a mantel, a cornice, or any motive with ornament does not make it a work of art. Everything depends on where and how the ornament is applied. Besides, generally, any motive is more artistic if it is perfectly simple.
Criticism. All through the work of design, it is of greatest advantage if criticism can be obtained from other architects and draftsmen; and even the criticism of outsiders, conscientiously made, will frequently suggest valuable improvements in design. Whenever an intelligent criticism is received which suggests a change, it should be a matter of principle with every designer to make a sketch embodying this change, in order to see whether or not the criticism is good.