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Elements of Design




The element of direction offers basically three options- horizontal, vertical or oblique.
The dominant direction in an artwork has a powerful influence over the atmosphere generated by the work. It is an element that is easily overlooked, but when taken advantage of, is an extremely useful tool.
Verticle Direction Notre Dame de Paris – Eastern Facade

Notre Dame de Paris – Eastern Facade


The dominant vertical direction seen in Notre Dame de Paris gives a feeling of lightness, balance and elegance. The open flying buttresses and steeply pitched turrets defy the solid stone construction and make the building appear to be floating upwards.

Houses of Parliament -London, Charles Barry – 1840 Dominant Horizontal Direction

Houses of Parliament -London, Charles Barry – 1840

The British Houses of Parliament employ the same vertical gothic thrust but, with the addition of a dominant horizontal direction, the feeling is more of power, solidity and permanence.

Geometric and Organic Shapes © John Lovett

30 St Mary Axe – London, Foster and Partners, 2004

30 St Mary Axe in London takes sweeping diagonal lines spiralling to its apex to give the building a strong upward thrust and dynamic animated character of power and movement.


The same change in character can be seen in the following three photographs. The subject is the same in each, the change in directional emphasis creates a different atmosphere in each image.

Dominant Vertical Direction  © John Lovett

Dominant Vertical Direction

Dominant Horizontal Direction   © John Lovett

Dominant Horizontal Direction

Dominant Diagonal Direction © John Lovett

Dominant Diagonal Direction

The vertical emphasis in the first image gives a feeling of orderly formality the second horizontal emphasis feels calm and stable while the third diagonal emphasis feels active and animated.

Direction is an element that should be considered and controlled in a design. Emphasise the direction that reinforces the atmosphere you are trying to generate.

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