Architecture and the Golden Ratio

The dangers of lazy design.

April 4, 2024

As architectural designers and makers we often delve into the past for inspiration and often that journey leads to classical design. Formal architecture can be unfairly characterised as rigid and inflexible. In fact in the right hands the opposite is the case.

It is true that certain shapes and mouldings are guided by geometry and in fact, it is this geometry that gave classical architecture a formula that meant it could be beautifully copied time after time, without risk of changing the proportions and nature of the work. 

For designers, architects and artists 1.618 is a magic number. It is a figure derived by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. The Golden Ratio, or Golden Section, is an important principle in our work. Our designers work with this and other classical principles to bring balance and harmony to our clients’ homes.

Incredibly, one of our favourite reference books for classical interior architecture, bespoke classical kitchens and architectural joinery projects remains The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs, written in 1750 by Batty Langley.

During the early periods of formal English Architecture it was not uncommon for architects to be from other trades, such as joiners, cabinet-makers or even, in Langley’s case, landscape gardeners. Much of London’s early architecture was in-fact “borrowed” from books such as his, and we have referred to many of them ourselves when designing bespoke kitchens or architectural joinery in classical country houses.

A really good example of the exporting of formal architecture was the use of Langley’s book during the building of George Washington’s iconic home, Mount Vernon in Virginia, USA. The images below show how the builder used Plate 51 from  The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs influenced the creation of the grand Palladian window.

Initially, these books were written by craftsmen for fellow craftsmen, and later they were written by new architects for potential clients. Used by builders to copy from, they formed the pattern around which London’s early classical architectural structure and then Georgian architecture was born. Such books also started formalising the way in which new building designs were actually erected. 

For Artichoke, an extensive knowledge of the scale and proportions required to be true to classical English architecture is vital, not just because it helps us understand the context we’re fitting our work into, but also because it informs our design decisions. In this way our work becomes part of the evolution of the house and not something imposed on it. We are in effect able to understand the perspective of things. It’s why Artichoke’s work in period or listed buildings is designed to add its own level of listing and be there for many generations – making not just beautiful furniture, but making history.