The shape and proportion of rooms

Posted on 2 January 2009 0 comments

Why do we like the proportions of certain rooms more than others? Is there a formula, like the Golden Ratio, for calculating the ideal proportions? The 16th century Italian Architect Andrea Palladio defined seven harmonious proportions for rooms. These include a square, a circle and rooms with the ratios:

  • 1:1.414
  • 1:2
  • 2:3
  • 3:4
  • 3:5

At the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, you can stand inside a reproduction of an 18th century drawing room called the Henrietta Street Room. The room can be found in the Baroque, Palladianism & Propaganda section of the museum.

The Henrietta Street Room measures approximately 485 centimetres (width) by 700 centimetres (length). Here is the shape of the room represented as a simple rectangle. The windows fall along one side of the length of the room.

Henrietta Street room shape

When I first saw the Henrietta Street Room on a visit to the V&A, I knew nothing about architecture, but I was immediately struck by how agreeable and pleasant the proportions seemed. It’s fascinating to think that the mere shape and size of a room can induce such an effect.

Here are three more room shapes.

comparison of different room shapes

The first shape is from a new-build one bedroom flat and represents the proportions of the combined kitchen/dining/living room. The windows are located along one narrow end of the room. (A combined kitchen and living room sounds a lot less appealing than “open-plan living” doesn’t it?!)

The second shape is from my floor plan for a one-bedroom flat.

The third shape is from a new-build studio flat which also combines the kitchen and living area into one space.

Ignore the dimensions of the rooms for a moment and instead concentrate on their shape: the ratio of the length to the width. Which of these shapes (if any) would you choose for a living room? Would your choice be determined by where you could put the windows and door?

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