If asked what are the painterly aspects of a building and what are the sculptural aspects of a building, refer to the elements of design. Painterly aspects are symmetry, balance, repetition, variety, rhythm, color, and value. Sculptural aspects are relief, in-the-round, installation, and texture. St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, 1555-61, represents both sets of design elements. The ground plan consists of a tall tower surrounded by smaller towers, like the sun surrounded by the orbiting planets. This creates a geometric composition with the repetition of shapes and movement. There is also a repetition in the shapes of the domes atop the towers; each is of an onion bulb shape. There is also a harmony of color; the cathedral is built of brick, and so the red color of the brick repeats.

 

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However, there is tremendous variety in color with the towers’ domes creatively colored in combinations of hot and cold colors or high and low value colors. The horizontal roofs are built of bronze plates that have turned green over time, again creating a red-green juxtaposition between the brick and rooflines. What about the surface patterns and lines? The domes have a variety of organic and swirling lines, while the walls of the towers have sharp triangular and clean semicircular linear accents. These shapes, while consistent throughout the building, also vary in size. What of the sculptural elements of design? Sculpturally, those triangles and semicircles are in relief (they slightly bulge outward), the towers stand independently (in-the-round), and the viewer can walk under and into its space (installation/environmental). It is made of brick, metal, and smoothened painted plaster so the texture alternates between rough and smooth.

One of the most famous world structures is the Taj Mahal, 1632-53, a tomb constructed by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife. Not only does it exhibit the painterly elements of design, but those elements then continue into the gardens. The verticals, horizontals and repeating rectangles and pointed arch shapes and domes continue in the fountains and landscaping.  While of one color (the white of the marble), value contrast is produced by the natural light, which casts a pattern of light and dark within the building. At different times of the day, dawn and dusk, the white material absorbs the tinted rays of light adding warm color tones. Relief carvings of abstracted vines and flower add texture and surface variety.