This is a picture that is only referred to in the book. For various reasons we were unable to include it in the book. I visited Attingham park in Shropshire in the Midlands area of England with my icon painting teacher Aidan Hart. We went primarily to enjoy the extensive grounds which are beautifully landscaped. I always thought that it was made in the 17th century, but in fact I notice now that it was build in the late 18th century.
It is a National Trust property, which means that it is owned by the state and considered a place of outstanding interest and beauty. When I was there I noticed the proportional layout of the main house, as seen in this view above. What makes this particularly worthy of study is how simple the design, yet how beautiful. If it were not for the Palladian style portico (the grand columned porch that leads to the entrance of the building) the main house would be just a square block. One might argue that there was very little in terms of design to differentiate it from a modern housing block.
Both have windows and doors in a rectangular facade. Yet the modern building is no tourist attraction. In fact it was described in the website where I saw it as one of the seven most notorious housing projects in the US.
What gives Attingham House its beauty is the proportion? Proportion is the consonant relationship between three or more objects of different size. You cannot have pleasing proportion when everything is the same size as in the modern building shown. The basis for theories of harmonious proportion are consensus - people have observed since the ancient Greeks how most people react psychologically to different proportions. The Attingham House proportions are made apparent by the different window sizes associated with the three stories. If you count the panes of glass there are 6 in the lower floor, 4 in the second floor and 2 in the upper floor windows. The proportion would be expressed mathematically as 3:2:1. This corresponds exactly to the traditional proportions based upon the lengths of pipes that produce pleasing combinations of musical notes developed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (who we talked about in the last of these features, here.)
It seems that modern science is beginning to catch up. Someone recently contacted me to tell me about this book by Colin Ellard, Places of the Heart in which a psychologist conducts studies to see how different designs affect the mood of people.
If the designers of modern housing projects had made use of such proportions, even such mass housing could elevate the spirit in the same, way.