Pharaohs' architects hold the key

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am

Pride of place on the bookshelf in James Wong's office goes to a two-volume work which, he believed, should be required reading for every architect, property developer and interior designer.

The Temple of Man by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz was the result of a 15-year study by the author in to the art and architecture of the ancient Temple of Luxor in Egypt, to decode the secrets it holds.

While the book is wide-ranging and controversial in scope, delving into aspects of cosmology, mythology and mysticism, what most fascinated Dr Wong, president of Allied Environmental Consultants, was the detailed exposition of scientific and geometric principles used in the time of the pharaohs. If studied and applied today, he felt, they could do much to inspire a 'revolution' in architectural thinking and advance the cause of environmentally aware design.

What Schwaller de Lubicz discovered, after taking extensive measurements of the complex at Luxor, was the use of a 'sacred geometry' in all the main structures. The design and layout embodied concepts known in later eras as the golden ratio and the Fibonacci sequence.

The golden ratio, alternatively known as the divine proportion, represents a ratio of 1.618 and recurs repeatedly in the natural world. As one of the 'building blocks' of the universe it is found everywhere, from atoms to the spiral arrangement of seeds in a sunflower and the ratio of female to male honeybees in a hive. It is also encoded in human DNA. For evidence, divide your height by the measurement from your navel to your feet and the result will be 1.618, or very close.

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical progression starting with 0 then 1 and then calculating each successive number from the sum of the previous two. It entails innate proportion.

By incorporating it with their knowledge of solar cycles, form, ventilation and holistic design, the architects of ancient Egypt created buildings of supreme balance, in harmony with the environment and the needs of users, and intended to last for eternity.

Dr Wong saw the contrast in Hong Kong. 'Architects here are taught to think only for the short term. The design life of a building is 50 to 60 years, and the people involved have a limited outlook. Developers and architects look for the well proven and easiest way to get government approval.'

He asked how someone can design an 'environmental' building without studying how it was done 3,000 years ago. 'The temples of Egypt were full of sacred geometry and knowledge of how it would affect the occupants of the building,' he said. 'That is not in the current syllabus.'