Architecture Composition Essentials

Architectural composition is the organization of elements consisting of various principles...

Architecture is both an art and a science, demanding a meticulous balance of creativity and technical expertise. Central to this is the concept of architectural composition—the deliberate organization of elements to create a cohesive whole.

At its core, architectural composition involves the strategic placement and order of various elements—ranging from lines, planes, and volumes to more sensory aspects like color, texture, and size.

These components work together to establish visual order and a formal structure within a design. The importance of composition extends beyond mere aesthetics; it is fundamental in shaping the character, appearance, and style of architectural works.

Moreover, a well-composed building facilitates optimal photographic representation, emphasizing the interplay between structural elements and the surrounding space.

This article delves into the essentials of composition in architecture, examining its significance and its impact on both the aesthetic and functional aspects of a building.

It explores not only the theoretical underpinnings of architectural composition but also offers practical insights into its application through principles such as proportion, scale, rhythm, and balance.


  • Foundational Importance: Architectural composition is crucial for defining the character, appearance, and style of buildings, utilizing elements like space, mass, and design order to convey aesthetic and functional qualities.
  • Photographic Considerations: Effective composition in architecture not only impacts the design of a space but also enhances how these spaces are perceived and captured in photography, emphasizing the interplay between structural elements and negative space.
  • Guiding Design Principles: Key principles such as balance, contrast, and proportion, guide us as architects in creating visually appealing and structurally coherent designs.
  • Evolution and Application: Architectural composition adapts to modern design demands, integrating principles like minimalism and the strategic use of materials to align with contemporary aesthetics and functional requirements.

What is a composition in architecture?

When defining architecture composition, it can be described as “the planned arrangement of parts to form a whole”.

Architects typically use it to compose concepts, contexts, drawings, elements, experiences, functions, materials, spaces, etc. Where the placement or order of elements such as lines, planes and volumes, or visual elements like color, texture, and size, form visual order and formal structure.

Why is composition important in architecture?

Architects use space and mass to form an ordered expression through composition. This ordering process is quintessential to direct a design’s character, appearance, and style.

Composition is especially important in architecture for taking optimal photographs of a building or space, due to the relationship between the structural elements and negative, or surrounding, spaces.

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Principles of Architecture composition

Proportion – Proportion as the relationship of one object to another or one part of an object to its other parts of the whole. Also, the proportion does not rely on a known size.

Scale – Scale refers to how the size of different elements relates to each other. Çankaya University suggests that varying the size of elements can produce visual drama that draws attention to a focal point.

The perception of scale can be affected by a viewer’s own dimensions. Therefore, a viewer’s dimensions play a role in the scale of the building he or she is looking at.

Repetition – Repetition is the implementation of the same colors, elements, etc. throughout the design. The principle can be used to create a pattern or repetition of an object or symbol in an art piece.

Rhythm – Rhythm is the repetitive use of one or more design elements to generate a sense of organized movement. This leads the eye to follow a visual link across the space.

Rhythm can be accomplished with repetition by duplicating shapes, colors, lines, and textures. One example would be the repetitive use of blue window panes of the same size on a building.

It can also be developed by a gradation of shifting size or color, via identical objects radiating from a center axis, through opposition by making abrupt changes in lines, shapes, and color. For example, alternating black and white floor tiles.

And by translation is utilizing curved lines to navigate your view across a straight surface. For instance, flowy curtains hanging along flat windows.

Architecture Composition

Contrast – Contrast is the difference between objects in a composition, usually from varying sizes, textures, colors, positions, shapes, orientation. This principle can create a feeling of depth within two or three-dimensional compositions.

While too much similarity between design elements can be dull, too much difference can cause confusion. Therefore, it is important to balance the level of contrast to develop a compelling visual.

Balance – Balance can be defined as the concept of visual equilibrium. Similar to our physical sense of balance, like attempting to stand on a ball, opposing forces within a composition generate visual stability.

Symmetrical balance, also known as formal balance, is achieved by having equal “weight” on each side of a central fulcrum. When the elements on each side are arranged identically then it is referred to as bilateral symmetry.

In a composition, balance can also be achieved by ordering elements equally around a central point. This method creates radial symmetry and is known as radial balance. In photography, the reflection of an object creates balance through inverted symmetry.

Asymmetrical balance, or informal balance, is the arrangement of elements of different visual weights to balance each other out along a central point. In architecture, this can take place by varying the design of each floor of a building.

In a composition, you can also create balance using color, texture, shapes, and spaces.

Restraint – Restraint is the measure or condition that keeps something under control.

In design, this means solving a problem in the simplest way possible. A good example of this principle is Minimalistic design, which is developed to support its main functionality without added ornamentation.

Architects who follow restraint may hold off on unnecessary details and exuberant colors to focus on material honesty and structural integrity. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House is a famous example of using restrained colors and materials to develop a minimal space.

Definition – Definition references the outer line or form of any components or part of a building. Some examples include the exterior windows, archways, and different levels. In a composition, wide heavy columns can help define the edge of a building.

Hierarchy – Hierarchy is the placement of design elements into distinct levels of importance. This principle is used within design to emphasize one element over another and distinguish it as more important.

Therefore, visual hierarchy establishes prioritization and focal points.

Accentuation – Accentuation can be defined as the highlighting of certain parts of the architecture composition. To accomplish this, you must create a visual starting point for the eye to look at and navigate around the entire work.

Strength – In architectural composition, strength is the representation of durability and stability. This is achieved through the shape of a building; particularly a pyramid or rectangle. Also, stone or rough-textured materials, massive features, and structural elements help promote this principle.

Government buildings like the U.S. Capitol are extensively large and use columns to portray a feeling of strength.

Unity – Unity is when a harmony among the different design elements is achieved. More than that, it is the final result of each object and design principle working together to improve the appearance of a space.

Principles like balance, proportion, and rhythm within an area help bring the color, texture, and shape of objects into a practical relationship with the physical aspects of space, light, and structure.

Properties – In the book Compositions in Architecture claims that architectural design is virtually pattern making. In fact, every part of a building, from its plan to small details, appears as a pattern.

Similar to buildings, compositions of the organic world have the same five properties. These are number, geometry, proportion, hierarchy, and orientation.

In architecture compositions, numerical relationships play a role in the analysis of formal order. Geometry acts as the shape of numbers and guides the readings of patterns within architecture.

Proportion relates by being the ratio of numbers within a geometric figure or elements of a larger composition. Hierarchy relies on number, geometry, and proportion to identify the significance of various parts of the composition.

Finally, orientation can be external or internal. Buildings may externally face a particular direction but, internally, the organization of space may alter the orientation.       

Architecture Composition

Architecture composition in photography

There are many elements of a composition to consider when taking quality pictures of Architecture. Some people choose to strictly take black and white images of buildings and spaces.

For more information on this style, check out Black & White Architectural Photography Guide.

Fill the frame/cropping

The cropping, or resizing of an image by removing excess background, can be helpful to enhance focus on the main subject. For example, cropping out surrounding buildings in a composition can draw attention to the main tower.

Cropping is also beneficial for portraits, where the frame is filled with the person waist up or even just his/her face. This can relate to architecture by ensuring that most of the image consists of some object.

Consider what you’re cutting off

Whether you’re taking an image or cropping one, make sure you don’t leave out components of the main subject. For example, capturing a photo of the front of a house, but leaving out a small portion on the side. This may end up distracting the viewer.

There are occasions when it is okay to cut out parts but this rule should be considered most of the time.

Understand the rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a classic photography technique, which is to mentally divide your camera’s shot into a grid consisting of nine equal sections. The most important elements should be located on one of the imaginary lines and where they intersect.

This principle is particularly useful for landscape imagery, as you can align the horizon with the upper or lower line and subjects like trees or people with the vertical lines.

Use frames

You can use elements such as arches or trees as the frame of your composition. This is beneficial for drawing attention to your subject, isolating it, hiding objects behind the frame, and developing depth and context.

Watch the background

Before you take a photo, look at the background for any obtrusive elements that may interfere with the focus on the main subject. You can select a wider aperture on a DSLR camera to unfocus, or blur, the background. For other cameras, Portrait Mode should also work.

Create depth

Verifying that your image captures elements in the fore-, middle-, and background can create a sense of depth. As a result, this draws the viewer’s gaze throughout the photo. However, make sure the objects in your image are balanced. You don’t want a car in the foreground taking attention away from the buildings in the background.

Utilize abstraction

Identify patterns within patterns to create a more abstract composition. This abstraction can cause the meaning behind the image to be more interpretable for the viewer. Moreover, try to capture the forms that make up a building or space.

Consider negative space

Negative space is the empty space surrounding or highlighting a subject. In architecture, this could be the sky around a building or shadows within a space.

Playing with how you capture the negative space can form interesting visuals and relationships within a composition.    

Line composition in Architecture

When looking at pictures, our eyes navigate along lines. Therefore, line placement in photos will affect how viewers experience them. You can capture a line with various points or have it stop to a focal point.

For instance, a driveway leading to a house will direct the viewer’s eyes up towards the structure.

This technique can also apply to the shapes in your composition. You can imagine a triangle and align three subjects with each of the shape’s points.

Marie Gardener provides the example of stairways leading to a door. Not only that, but your image can direct the viewer’s gaze along multiple paths. Another idea is to look up while taking photos of an architectural site. This can become an unexpected composition of the roof and windows.

Another form of line used in imagery is curves. A photograph of spiral staircases may compel you to look at the image in the path’s circular direction.

Sometimes, especially in Modern architecture, straight lines intersect with curves. Similar to the spiral staircase, you can adjust your field of view so the path leads to an intersection from the rule of thirds.

Architecture Composition


How many principles and elements are there in architectural composition?

Many of our sources claim there are seven or eight principles in architectural composition. In fact, Tayyebi and Demir performed a study to identify the visual attributes associated with the architecture composition.

However, different articles and slideshows have variations in what they consider as these principles. Additionally, ideas are sometimes grouped together such as scale with proportion and accentuation with rhythm.

Therefore, the exact number of concepts is not certain. However, we made sure to explain each of them in this article.

Similarly, there is no set amount of elements in the architecture composition. Tayyebi and Demir reference color, texture, geometry, and symmetry.

At the same time, Çankaya University provides examples of conceptual elements (point, line, plane, volume, form, shape, space) and visual elements (color, texture, size and shape).


Architecture composition is the arrangement of various elements like form, color, and texture. There are many factors to consider when organizing objects, such as scale, rhythm, and hierarchy, all of which can and will directly affect the character and style of a design.

These principles also apply to the composition of architecture with photography. Since there are many factors to consider to improve your photos, this article should be a helpful guide for developing architecture compositions.

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