Creating Harmony Through Architecture, Water and Space

Creating Harmony Through Architecture, Water and Space

Let’s explore how to create harmony through architecture, water and space. In our series on creating your own WaterSpace, we’ve focused so far on the elements of landscape design, but there’s another essential design element—your home’s architecture—that you want to keep in harmony with your plan.

The idea of bringing harmony through architecture involving the careful placement and use of water and space has ancient roots. You can find inspirational examples as far back as China’s classic homes, which aren’t a single building but a medley of simple, often single-purpose buildings encompassed by carefully placed courtyards, trees, gardens, and water features. In the West, we look to the atriums of Roman-era villas, and the delightful variety of pools, fountains and ponds that have graced European estates and grand American homes over ensuing centuries.

Living in Harmony through Architecture

In “The Tao of Texture in WaterSpace Design” (story here), we looked at how landscapes and WaterSpaces shape mood and even our well-being. Texture creates the contrast and rhythm that helps achieve harmony through “balance without boredom, variety without chaos.”

Like many of the terms we use in landscape design and architecture, texture, rhythm, and harmony are among the musical terms equally at home with the visual arts. In his article,“Chinese Architectural Theory,” Charles Chen wrote, “architecture in Chinese philosophy and life is very similar to that of music.”

What We Build Shapes What We Become

Chen pointed out that Chinese ideas of harmony and music are very different from Western traditions. Yet the core human need to feel harmony is universal, and the music of harmony through architecture—inside and outside the home—is a force for shaping those feelings. As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us.”

According to Chen, Confucius believed, “one can tell from the music of a nation whether or not it is well governed.” Chen explained that Confucius “lived in a time of perpetual civil strife (551-478 BC).” Confucius saw music, like harmonious architecture, as an antidote to chaos. Confucian principles, Chen wrote, shaped Chinese homes so as “to establish a harmonious relationship between father and son, man and the State.”

Originally published by Architectural Review in July, 1947, “Chinese Architectural Theory” was republished online in November 2015. (View it here.)

Defining Your Home’s Style

If you’re interested in learning more about the architectural style of your home, get the new edition of Virginia Savage McAlester’s classic, “A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture.” The new edition is available as an eBook. The electronic version is optimized for viewing and takes full advantage of the ability of an iPad and other tablets to display and enlarge color images. At 2,839 pages, I found this massive guide is made better and even more useful in its Kindle version.

McAlester says that most American home styles have their roots in Western Europe. She shows how more than 50 stylistic traditions and mixtures of home styles are based on just four foundations: Ancient Classical, Renaissance Classical, Medieval, and Modern.

McAlester further divides her classifications as “Folk houses” and “Styled houses,” explaining that Folk houses, “are those designed without a conscious attempt to mimic current fashion.” Most American homes that have survived over the years are Styled, “built with at least some attempt at being fashionable.”

McAlester covers all the basics, starting with roof types and progressing to dormers, porches, windows and the many architectural features that define a style. If you want to have more productive conversations with your architect and builder—to ensure you’re making the best, most informed choices in bringing harmony through architecture and authenticity to your new WaterSpace—buy this book.

Harmonious Spaces for Water and Your Home

If I had to choose one word to describe why homeowners want to create their own WaterSpace, I’d pick harmony. Even when clients never use the word, in describing their desires, I invariably discover that harmony is at the heart of the things they prize.

Perhaps you envision a private place, an outdoor living space, where you can see, feel and experience the interplay of water, earth, sky and wind. Whether that space is your retreat or party place—or both—if it’s designed in harmony with your house and its surroundings, it will become a focal point and source of harmonious living at home.

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