The Roman Colosseum. The Notre Dame Cathedral. The Taj Mahal. The innumerable temples our country has come to house.
All of the mentioned monuments inspire us and make us appreciate the beauty of one thing they all have in common (apart from the fact they’re all buildings) – their symmetry.
Every single one of the (rather ancient) architectural wonders we look at in awe today are symmetrical in design, or so they were designed to be. Their structure somehow unifies their individual appearances and adds balance to the scene they belong in. Their beauty is such that thinking of them in any other way would drive us insane.
The Taj that never fails to amaze, with its stunning symmetry
We love these buildings just the way they are, and Gestalt’s psychology justifies why. According to him, it is in our nature to make sense, even out of chaos. We instinctively use proximity, similarity, continuity, closure or connectedness to make sense of any given information, including pieces of art, or a photograph.
And symmetry is one such principle (falling under different larger subsets at different times) that a huge number of us resort to, as a good part of nature around us, is a strong advocate for symmetry too (albeit roughly). The first thing that we think of when we think of nature, is probably symmetric. (I thought of leaves, which are almost always symmetric. What did you think of?) It is comforting, the concept of symmetry. It brings much-needed serenity, in this fast-paced world, where we don’t have even a minute to catch our breaths. It helps us believe in justice and equality and creates a sense (or should I say placebo?) of balance in our lives. It is instinct.
I mean, can you imagine how the Taj would have looked if it had been off center? God knows I don’t want to!
That said, it is also important that everything around us is not always perfectly symmetric. If that happens, one fine day, we’ll not have anything to engage our minds on, and I don’t know about you, but I most certainly dread that day. We all need a little something that creates just enough disturbance for us to be aware of, yet not unsettlingly so. This is where anti-symmetry and asymmetry come into the picture as alternatives.
Here, although the composition is not symmetrical, it somehow looks balanced, and well-rounded.
Thus, it is not really surprising to see the climb in numbers of buildings that are not symmetric. Yes, they have symmetry here and there, in pieces, but the composition overall, focusses on balance, rather than symmetry. A good example would be the famed ‘Fallingwater residence’, the brainchild of Frank Lloyd Wright, which was built in the 1930s.
Modern and contemporary architects (and professors in architecture colleges not excluding ours) speak highly of keeping things balanced, yet unsymmetric. The process of creating such a design or composition may be challenging, but the end results are worth the effort. No denying that.
But what these professionals also tend to do, is to openly look down on designs that are symmetric. They look at your designs, (disregard your efforts of the entire night before the submission) and reply smugly saying, “Anyone can do this. What’s so special about it?” And that is where the problem lies.
While the lack of symmetry might have its perks, we certainly cannot deny symmetry the credit it deserves for being constant throughout.
Just the right amount of symmetry can at times, prove to be magical.
Symmetry is simple. It is just right. We can even argue that it is less. Having said that, let us not forget the words of the famous German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “Less is more”.