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Gestalt Principles in Architecture: Achieving Design Balance

Image Credit: © Maxialfaro | Dreamstime

Architecture usually tries to achieve some sort of design balance, whether asymmetrical or symmetrical. In the midst of the design process, do architects consider certain laws or theories as relating to how humans perceive? Yes, architecture must take into account all of the senses – but can theories, like the Gestalt Principles, highlight why design works the way it does?

For instance, when viewing a building from almost all distances and perspectives, the observer may be pulling from one of the Gestalt Principles of visual perception. Such theories pick up on combinations of elements reflecting patterns like similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, and figure/ground. (Click here to see a great introduction on how such Gestalt Principles work.) When designing or viewing a building façade, for instance, I do think certain relationships surface between Gestalt Laws and architectural design.

Understanding how humans understand pattern and balance is quite an intriguing subject. Simply digging into why our brains are wired for symmetry can provide profound information for designers. How and why our brains consider all of the elements in a scene at once can help us understand why architecture is often “better than the sum of its parts”.

For architecture to achieve a certain kind of balance, designers must synchronize elements so each interacts with the other – eventually composing a kind of system. It is interesting to think that our brains can deconstruct such visual systems quite rapidly – although, at times, this may be a subconscious act. At its core, architecture is often made up of a rhythmic language that achieves balance through its use of elements. As architectural patterns fill the masses and voids of a spatial construction, some type of balance is usually an end-goal.

Because architecture is a composition of all the human senses, achieving a true design balance is a simple, yet complex, endeavor. By truly making such laws (like the Gestalt Principles) your own, architectural design success can become a groundbreaking and instinctive creative act.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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