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Aspect ratios and how to use them in architecture

So maybe we have watched a ton of movies, and besides the plot of the movie and how it makes us feel there is something else we just can’t seem to describe. Could it be maybe the aspect ratio of the movie?

Did you know that aspect ratios now play an important part of a film, not only to make it look more cinematic but also to include you in the movie and feel a certain way. 

What is an aspect ratio

The aspect ratio of an image is the ratio of its width to its height.

Aspect ratio 4:3 or academy ratio

You were probably one of the lucky ones to have seen tv in a 4:3 aspect ratio, yes those square TVs. Before other aspect ratios came into the picture, 4:3 is now used in movies to make you feel emotional, part of the movie, kind of claustrophobic, trapped. Not only this, but this aspect ratio is also used to just focus on a subject or object, to show a very detailed part of the movie without zooming in. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel 4:3 Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio: 16:9 or 1.85:1

Cinemas were having low attendance, so they decided to include the widescreen aspect ratios, and 4:3 was left as the ratio for tv. 16:9 is the most common aspect ratio we are used to, with all of the flat-screen TVs in the 21s century. This aspect ratio gives you the feeling of not being trapped but also not that extreme. This is mostly used on tv shows, documentaries, and tv ads.

1.85:1 similar to 16:9 this aspect ratio is often confused in films. It is used to show characters with different heights, and it is better for tall or narrow sets

Her, 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

2.39:1 better known as  Cinemascope (“Scope” for short) or widescreen (in the film industry), this is the other standard ratio for cinema projection. You might recognize this aspect ratio when you go to the Imax movie theaters. This aspect ratio is mostly used for landscapes, for wide sets or sets that lack height. 

Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV), Scope aspect ratio

Aspect ratios in architecture

Now, this is deeply felt in movies, but what about architecture? You are probably wondering ok.. good info but what? Well, aspect ratios must be important for all of your architectural projects. Whether it’s an illustration, a photo, or a render. You need to make sure you know what you want to convey to your audience, what you want them to feel. 

Berenice Abbott. Rockefeller Center, ca. 1932. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery © Getty Images/Berenice Abbott

In architecture, you might do an illustration or an image and when it’s time to present it, you realize that it looks weird or that it doesn’t fit into your presentation. Do not hyperventilate! Remember our good old friend photoshop? You can adjust your image to the aspect ratio you need.

The aspect ratio you use, will be to convey different types of emotions. If you use a 2.39:1 aspect ratio you will have negative space within your image, this will give out a feeling of cleanliness, or loneliness.

Hacienda – Alberto Kalach, Iwan Baan

So which one tu use in architecture?

  • If you want to give protagonism to a certain object, subject in your image without having the audience looking beyond, a 4:3 aspect ratio is perfect for this.
  • Have buildings or subjects with different heights? Or if the image is narrow or tall? 16:9 is the aspect ratio to use.
  • The 2.39:1 aspect ratio is perfect to show landscape, or just to evoke that spreadness feeling, an extreme feeling. 
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