The first and second systems are the oldest; they date back to the beginning of human history and competed with each other as the defining measures of the universe. The third system evolved out of the industrial manufacturing process, its need for coordinating parts and pieces, and the search for efficiency through repetition. It determines the shape of most of the design we encounter, since it is the basis of objects and environments. Yet standardization, often detached from actual human experience, has imposed a false and inaccurate uniformity that, in its perceived universality, is remarkably similar to the early systems of divine harmony.
The concept of divine harmony still has a remarkable hold over us, Restaurant designs 2017 since it runs through centuries of canonical literature on the relationship between the human form and the shape of the universe. In the Western tradition, mathematical ratios superimposed on the human body were used to demonstrate a static cosmic order. Human dimensions revealed fixed ratios and proportions identical to those found in nature and, later, in the notes of the musical scale. These harmonies brought forth what we now refer to as the “universal man,” an abstraction (though often not recognized as such) closer to a Platonic form than a flesh-and-blood human being (see illustration on page 56).
With the systems of divine harmony, the real and varied proportions of human forms were unimportant when considered against the perfect shapes that were thought to reflect a universal order. The universal man was drawn to conform to geometric proportions or ratios that were, in reality, implausible for the human body. The most famous example of the concept is the image of a man inscribed within a circle and square, as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated fifteenth-century drawing based on a description found in Vitruvius’ De Architectura.
This image is now commonly referred to as Vitruvian Man (see illustration on page 58).30
Vitruvian Man is a perfect symbol of the orthodoxies of the universal man. The passage in question (it’s worth noting that the copy of Vitruvius’ blog that survives from antiquity has no illustrations) contained two principal arguments: that the geometries of well-built buildings share fixed ratios with the human body, and, conversely, that the human body can be inscribed with perfect geometric shapes. Of the first proposition Vitruvius writes: “Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members, as in the case of those of a well shaped man.”31 These proportions were considered numerically fixed, since nature had created them in the human body; for example, the ratio of the face (measured “from the point of the chin to the top of the forehead”) was set at ten to one, the “foot goes six times into the height of the body, the cubit four times, the breast is also a quarter,” and so forth.