Abstract

Symmetry: Culture and Science
Volume 30, Number 1, pages 059-090 (2019)
https://doi.org/10.26830/symmetry_2019_1_059

MEANINGS OF SYMMETRY: THE LEGIBILITY OF SYMMETRY OF HISTORIC SCHOOL BUILDINGS

Krisztina Somogyi1*, Mihály Balázs2, Andrea Dúll3

1 Doctoral School of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, 46 Izabella utca, Budapest, 1064, Hungary.
E-mail: krisztina.somogyi@plusminus.hu

2 Department of Public Building Design, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, 1-3 Műegyetem rakpart, Budapest, 1111, Hungary.
E-mail: balazs.m@kozep.bme.hu

3 Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, 46 Izabella utca, Budapest, 1064, Hungary.
E-mail: dull.andrea@ppk.elte.hu

* corresponding author

Abstract: Symmetry is a feature of many historic buildings. It had been a major architectural compositional principle until the late 19th century, but was used less and less in the 20th century. Especially since WWII, classical symmetry has become a rather updated and suspicious organizing principle, even having negative connotations (authoritarian power), when applied to big administrative buildings. It is argued that free composition, with dynamic and flexible arrangements, better fits the nature of contemporary life. Highly praised new architectural works are asymmetric in their essence, even churches often have disharmonious, dynamic and asymmetric volumes. Many architects argue today that balance is achieved in a more complex way; it is borne out of refined asymmetrical compositions. On the other hand, Europe has a rich heritage of historic buildings, many of them still in service; among them are schools that play important role in the life of the new generations. School buildings not only offer spaces for learning, but also contribute to the socialization of children in a complex way and even facilitate the development of their identities. Regarding the contemporary architectural works built to fit the pedagogical principles of the 21th century, it can be assumed that learning in a historic building can be challenging. Focusing on the topic of symmetry only, one can wonder about its possible meanings and functions today. Is there a contradiction between the harmonious, but rigid and disciplined, structure of the historical school buildings and the dynamic, active and hybrid school activities of the present day? Three schools of Budapest built around the same period in Historic style were observed to learn about the usage. They are all universities, but one of them also gives place to a religious secondary school. Symmetry is discussed not as a mathematical pattern of the composition but rather as possible meanings for the user.

Keywords: historical school buildings, symmetrical pattern, person-environment fit, meanings in architecture, wayfinding, identity