Upon his election in 1981 as president of the Republic of France, François Mitterrand
had a major decision to make.
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It was not a dilemma concerning the French economy nor was it
a decision on where to deploy the French Legionnaire; rather, the decision concerned a more
homely problem for France.
One of the country’s great national treasures, the Louvre, was in
disrepair.
Looking for someone to resurrect the beautiful museum, in a controversial move,
Mitterrand hired I.M. Pei, a Chinese American architect to restore the Louvre.
His solution, to
construct a series of glass pyramids, was considered unique and extraordinary for its time.
What
Pei really hit on, in actuality, was an ancient and mystical concept that defined great architecture
of the past.
This concept, called the golden ratio, has been missing in current architecture since
the twentieth century.
Attempts to understand and reproduce the magic of the golden ratio have
largely been unsuccessful.
The term “golden ratio” is actually one of many that describe this concept.
The golden
ratio is also known as the golden number, golden section, and divine proportion.
It is written as
phi (Φ) in the Greek alphabet.
All, nevertheless, refer to the same number: 1.6180339887.
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To
arrive at the golden ratio, first begin with a square.
A square can be divided into two equal parts
by drawing a diagonal line from one corner to the opposite corner.
The relationship between one
side of the square to the diagonal line is 1:
2
Furthermore, placing two squares together creates a
double square, or a rectangle.
The relationship between the two differing sides of the rectangle is
two to one.
As with one square, a rectangle can be divided into two equal parts by drawing a
diagonal line from one corner to the opposite corner.
The relationship between one side of the
rectangle to the diagonal line is 1:
5
From the double square arises the golden ratio.
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According to Euclid, the first mathematician to define the golden ratio, this ratio comes
from the definition of proportion.
In Euclid’s definition,
“A straight line is said to have been cut