Many designers, architects, engineers, and the like invest in an array of measuring tools in order to help them create various designs and projects. Not only is this useful for creating accurate measurements, but it also helps achieve a balanced design – whether or not it is symmetrical.
Symmetrical balance is one of the things professionals learn in order to design and build structures. This concept is known even by those who don’t belong in the world of construction. However, not many people know about asymmetry. If you are one of these individuals, you might wonder what it is.
In the everyday language, aesthetic symmetry means that something has the same length in both of its sides as well as its middle part. The perfect example would be a square; when you cut it down the middle, you’ll get two rectangles that are perfectly alike. Many people find this trait to be visually pleasing because of the sense of harmony and balance symmetrical images bring to their brains.
Asymmetry, on the other hand, is the lack of this balance because the two halves of an object are not even matches for each other. Take an acute or obtuse triangle for example. No matter where you cut it in half, both sides will be uneven in shape. Often times, this is seen as undesirable.
However, in visual arts, this can be done with taste to be aesthetically pleasing with the right design.
Symmetry can be found at every scale of architecture (from large cathedrals to the intimate home floor plan down to the tiles). Islamic structures are best known for this, especially with the iconic Taj Mahal and Lotfollah Mosque. Both of these use symmetry in their overall structures and small ornamentations. The Alhambra, which is a Moorish building, also uses complex patterns built around translational and reflection symmetries.
On the other side, modernist and postmodern architects experimented (and continue to experiment) on asymmetrical designs. This can mostly be seen in bridges. While most bridges are symmetrical, plenty of modern bridges were made to be asymmetrical. This was because of site requirements or the desire to make an artistic statement.
In order to understand why does asymmetry work in architecture and why does it work in design in general for that matter, the concept of balance must also be understood, including how it is achieved through both symmetry and asymmetry.
Symmetry takes a more simple but logical approach to design. By bringing an obvious balance to the mind of the viewer, the design is automatically perceived as pleasant. While a design doesn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical, as long as it is close enough, then the mind will be happy with what it sees. This balance is often called “formal balance.”
However, the nature of this formal balance makes it difficult to do when the design becomes more complicated. Plus, it is limited to simple designs. When one tries to achieve symmetry in a design that requires many elements, he will find that this is impossible; or he will have to force it.
In response to this need, to be able to make intricate designs while still being balanced, an “informal balance” was needed. This is achieved through asymmetry. Balance can be found here by distributing the design elements to even out the “weight” on either side. This means that, from the middle, no side has too many or too little elements compared to the other. A sense of balance is achieved by doing this and it is useful because not all designs can truly be forced to be symmetrical.
Here are the reasons why asymmetrical measurements work:
The mind doesn’t look for a perfectly shaped design; rather it is looking for a balanced one. Although it is true that it can easily be achieved by symmetrical shapes, asymmetrical images are just as capable – and possibly even more interesting!