Chapter 4b – Rural Housing Handbook ~ Rhythm and Repetition

Rhythm and Repetition

So, we’ve established that we need a ‘big idea’ that holds our design together and that in the right places we should be allowed to have a higher percentage of glazing on the southern facade (northern climates); and I’ve hinted that maybe we should be allowed to have a little divergence from the established window shapes that the planners seem to adore ?

The difficulty arises that it is very easy simply to think that unusual window shapes constitutes gooddesign; I’m actually going against (a little) what I said previously, in that I think (in-general) the planners have (on the whole) got it right regarding window shape and proportions where they front onto the public realm. It is very easy to get it wrong when composing an elevation and I still revert to the old adage ‘The plan is the generator’; the window shape,size and proportion is a direct response to what is going on in the space behind it, drawing unusual or wacky shapes for the sake of it (I feel) should be frowned upon. The worst example of an ill fitting elevational treatment is when unintentionally the windows give the impression of a face, with eyes etc…(and before you say it, yes, I have been guilty of this but thank god only at the rear of a house). Incidentally, I have seen deliberate cases of this being done and in some cases, the results are lovely!

So, if just making shapes for the sake of it is out; how therefore should we treat non-standard, glazed facades that doesn’t verge on pastiche or ridiculousness ? The answer (I feel) lies in the use of Rhythm and Repetition; two key and well established concepts in design and architectural history:

But first a definition:

“Rhythm is the regular or harmonious recurrence of lines, shapes, forms or colours. Rhythm incorporates the fundemental notion of repetition as a device to organise forms and spaces in architecture.”
Architecture: FORM SPACE & ORDER, Francis DK Ching

It is this rhythm and repetition of the columns and arches at temples and cathedrals that gives an order and a visual harmony. What’s happening is that these repetitions and recurring, similar elements are creating a rhythm and a visual pattern that are triggering pleasing responses in the brain.

If we look at the front elevation of our own house again (image below) we effectively see three sets of rhythms; the structural elements (round steel columns and beams supporting the grass roof) are creating a structural pattern of five vertical elements, each bay created by this structure creates a rhythm of four and finally the glazing elements divide each bay further in a similar pattern of four.

Diagram showing rythyms and repetitions of structure & glazing

Diagram showing rythyms and repetitions of structure & glazing

If you now look at the reflective glazing elements at Mimetic House; I would hazard to guess that the perfect solution for effectively mimicing the landscape would be to have a single plane of reflective glass for an entire facade; but in fact, the glazing bars help to give a repetition and rhythm and an order to the house that locks the house into the landscape.


Glazing rhythm at Mimetic House by Dominic Stevens

What I am saying therefore is that (in some instances), where careful thought has taken place, it is essential for designers to stray from well tried forms in order to pursue a residential architecture that is befitting for the 21st century and it is up to us as architects to present our case to the planners and show that this careful thought has taken place rather than the wacky invention of inappropriate shapes…

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