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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 1 (June-July, 1949)

How's Your Sense of Balance?

How's Your Sense of Balance?

Nothing upsets people more than something which appears to be out of balance—witness the recent Press discussions when the Minister of Finance reported an excess of income over the year's estimates.

Hang a picture crooked, place a ladder askew or attempt to rest a heavy object on a fragile support and someone will scream in terror and alarm. Ever since mankind decided that it was more progressive to walk on two legs than on four he has been concerned with problems arising from his decision.

Failure to balance means that something is going to topple or collapse. If you feel that this is going to happen or might happen or even could happen, you are uncomfortable, on page 17 page 18 page 19
Taken almost at hazard—a flat, rounded stone from the seashore and an iron rod encased in glazed plaster.

Taken almost at hazard—a flat, rounded stone from the seashore and an iron rod encased in glazed plaster.

edge and restless. Things do not actually need to topple or collapse to cause discomfort—the likelihood of their doing so is enough. So they must look safe. We ask for balance, and the appearance of balance, in our buildings, paintings and designs. Preferring comfort to a feeling of distress we decide that balance is one of the elements of design.

If we watched someone crossing the Niagara Falls on a tight rope we should experience an acute feeling of tension. If we saw the same feat every day for a year we should by that time hardly bother to watch. The anxiety about a failure to balance would be adjusted by repetition and custom.

The architect's problems in days gone by was to build his walls so as to hold the roof. Walls were wide at the bottom and narrowing as they rose, to counter the thrusting weight of roof. Countless years of familiarity built up in us an idea of balance based on stone and brick. Every European painting for centuries has been designed on the same principle of balance as a building, with a heavy base and becoming lighter as it ascends. Chinese paintings on the other hand have their apparent weight evenly distributed over the surface.

New materials, however, have been discovered at an amazing rate during the last few years and most of these materials will stand a strain far greater than those of age long use. Their employment calls for a readjustment of our sense of balance. At first we feel uncomfortable on seeing a tall building which appears to rest its weight on a few sheets of plate glass and a thin steel rod. Modern building materials have abolished the problem of walls as support for the roof. Walls are now conditioned only by questions of light or privacy. Unbreakable glass or plastics used as table tops appear unsafe to bear weight, for time has not yet conditioned our sense of balance to the new materials.

Abstract artists are the experimenters in a new sense of balance. Their abstract art, both sculpture and painting, consists of atempts to effect a new feeling for balance and to extend our comprehension of balance over new and unfamiliar fields.

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