This mantra by Vitruvius, Roman architect to Caesar Augustus, from his treatise De Architectura or the Ten books of Architecture is one of the first measuring sticks used on architecture students and probably the most difficult to succeed with in the day to day world of design. All architects learn this phrase and its meaning as the basic ingredients of great architecture. There are parallels in virtually all professional disciplines of a three factor formula to achieve balance and the quality results. Another that architects and contractors are well versed in is the three legged stool of “Quality, Time and Cost”, but that is another post. This dictum Commodity Firmness and Delight has been the subject of much discourse through the ages and there is a lot of material out there on who said what and when but I have found that the majority of my clients are unaware of this simple formula and how important it is to achieve a successful project. I find in the practice of church design often the first two of the three legs are included but the third is missing all together or has become the VE item, or all three are minimized to the point that the three legged stool is just a plank of wood with no legs, it raises you up a little but not much. So what are Commodity Firmness and Delight and why are they important to design?
Commodity: Simply stated, is the part design that deals with the functional aspects of the building. Does the design meet the physical needs of the client, are all the program elements present and working well, does the design meet the building code, is the budget appropriate for the use? Leg number one.
Firmness: Is the structural capacity of the design and its durability. Are working parts of the building up to the task, are they durable and appropriate for the intended use and duration of use of the building, is the building energy efficient? Leg number two.
Delight: Does the design have beauty, does the design lift the spirit and create the desire to experience the key moments of your life in that space? Will it be appropriate for your child’s baptism, will your daughter’s wedding be as beautiful as she imagines, will your funeral be celebrated in a space that reflects the values of your life. Leg number three.
Delight is a bit of a subjective measure and you may have noticed there is no code or formula for beauty but this is the core of what the architect is tasked to provide. Vitruvius helps us here as well with a measure for beauty which he divides into several key categories. These are all taught in school as well and soon forgotten or sacrificed in the budget to the other more easily understood stool legs.
Order-Do the differing parts of the design share proportion and measurements which relate to each other and build to form a comprehensive whole?
Arrangement– are the spaces arranged to reinforce the function and give the design additional meaning by creating a sequence of use that culminates in the most meaningful space having the a place of prominence and logical arrangement?
Harmony-Do the spaces of the design reflect the use proposed by having, well proportioned, width to height ratios that are comfortable for the users? Do the building components visually appear to have proportions to support the loads imposed or imagined?
Scale-Does the design have a visual presence that is appropriate for the use and the scale of the surrounding buildings and site?
Décor– Does the design of the interior reflect the use and the client’s intention, are materials appropriately deployed to reinforce the other aspects of beauty?
Distribution-Does the design distribute the available resources in an economical way to create a design that is balanced and provides the elements of beauty above without sacrificing parts of the work.
When one of the legs dominates the others suffer and so goes the design. We have all seen a church that is ill proportioned but was very expensive to build, we have seen churches that just do not have the arrangement of spaces that function well but were very economical to build. Hopefully we have all experienced a church that achieves balance and provides for economy durability and beauty.
Commodity, Firmness and Delight don’t be afraid to ask for all three.