Human beings enjoy rhythm

Post written by Paul de Vries and Simon Droog.

Basilica Cistern in Istambul (Turkey) – Source: luegosieso (

In our series Architectural means we’re trying to find answers to the questions: Which architectural means do we have to create specific atmospheres that can elicit specific emotions? In this post we’ll talk about the aspect Rhythm as one of the architectural mean we have to create specific architectural atmospheres.

Rhythm can be described as an alternation of elements or movements over time. Human beings enjoy rhythm in various ways, like in music, art, architecture and even in nature. Rhythm can be simple, complex or a combination of both – ordered complexity or complex order.

The birds in figure 1 create a very dynamic scene. The wires, however, bring some order to all this chaos. Together they are like a music bar, where the birds are the notes and the wires the ledger lines. This is a good example of ordered complexity.

Fig. 1 Birds on a wire – Source: Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

An example of complex order is Italian broccoli. Grant Hildebrand writes: “Italian broccoli [see fig. 2], one of the most wonderful of natural fractal geometries, can produce in Homo sapiens that most honest evidence of pleasure, a smile or a laugh. Its infinite progression of hierachical order generates delight.” (1)

Fig. 2 Delightful Italian broccoli

Rhythm = Alternation of elements or movements over time.

  • Ordered complexity: brings order to chaos
  • Complex order: progression of (hierarchical) order generates delight

Variations in rhythm

“In the world of architecture you can also experience delightful examples of subtle variations within strict regularity.”

– RASMUSSEN, S.E. (1965) Experiencing Architecture (2)

In Origins of Architectural Pleasure, Grant Hildebrand gives the example of Arlington Row in Bilbury, Gloucestershire (see fig. 3). A row of traditional houses of the same type that are built within the same overall plan. Although they are of the same type, etc. they all exhibit some small differences – “variations on a theme within a […] pattern.” (3)

Fig. 3 Arlington Row in Bilbury, Gloucestershire – Source: Anguskirk (

Hildebrand himself writes: “Arlington Row in Bilbury, Gloucestershire, presents  to the eye seemingly repeated elements and seemingly repeated intervals – doors, windows, dormers, gables, chimneys – whose multitudinous minor variations make each iterations as different from any other, and as alike, as individuals of the same species.“ (4)

“[…] (We) take pleasure in seeing new patterns which are minor transformations of the original […]”

– HUMPHREY, N. (1980) Architecture for people : explorations in a new humane environment. (5)


  1. HILDEBRAND, G. Origins of Architectural Pleasure (p. 96) – affiliate link
  2. RASMUSSEN, S.E. (1965) Experiencing Architecture, 2nd Edition (p. 127) – affiliate link
  3. HILDEBRANT, G. Origins of Architectural Pleasure – affiliate link
  4. HILDEBRANT, G. Idem
  5. HUMPHREY, N. (1980) Architecture for people: Explorations in a new humane environment – affiliate link

2 thoughts on “Rhythm

  1. Nice topic! Are you familiar with the work of Jannick Joye? His phd dissertation is about natural architecture and fractals. And are you familiar with processing fluency theory? Schwarz, Reber and Winkielman wrote a lot about how easy to perceive stimulus influences our affect and thereby our judgements. Gestalt principles like similarity and symmetry, which I regard as the basics of rhythm, are manners to influence the ease of perception.

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