March 5, 2013

Phi and the Golden Section in Architecture


Phi (Φ)the Golden Section, has been used by mankind for centuries in architecture

Its use started as perhaps early as with the Egyptians in the design of the pyramids.  When the basic phi relationships are used to create a right triangle, it forms the dimensions of the great pyramids of Egypt, with the geometry shown below creating an angle of 51.83 degrees, the cosine of which is phi, or 0.618.   (See more on this at Phi, Pi and the Great Pyramid of Giza.)

Phi, the golden ratio, in the dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Egypt

The ancient Greek Euclid ((365–300 BC) wrote of it in “Elements” as the ”dividing a line in the extreme and mean ratio.”   The Parthenon, built in 447 to 438 BC, appears to use it in some aspects of its design to achieve beauty and balance its design.  This, however, is subject to some debate, as discussed in more detail at The Parthenon and the Golden Ratio:

The Parthenon, illustrating phi, the golden proportion, in its proportions of design

Notre Dame in Paris, which was built in between 1163 and 1250 appears to have golden ratio proportions in a number of its key proportions of design.  Although it is rather asymmetrical in its design and difficult to measure photographically because of parallax distortions, the golden ratio lines of the green, blue and red rectangles conform closely to the major architectural lines, which represent:

  • Red – Vertical height of base at ground level : Top of first level : Top of second floor
  • Blue – Vertical height of base of second level : Top of second level : Top of third level
  • Green – Horizontal width of outside of left top section : Inside of top right section : Outside of top right section:

Notre Dame in Paris illustrating golden ratios

Renaissance artists of the 1500′s in the time of Leonardo Da Vinci knew it as the Divine Proportion.  In India, it was used in the construction of the Taj Mahal, which was completed in 1648.  Click on photos below for enlarged image.

Thanks go to Moein Danesh for the contribution of information on the Taj Mahal.

It has also been reported to have been used in the United Nations building, but we are still seeking details that can confirm this.


The CN Tower in Toronto, the tallest tower and freestanding structure in the world, has contains the golden ratio in its design. The ratio of observation deck at 342 meters to the total height of 553.33 is 0.618 or phi, the reciprocal of Phi!

Thanks go to John Owen for his contribution of this information on the CN Tower

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Dom August 2, 2012 at 8:55 am

It’s incredible! We are searching for sophisticated solutions, and invite new ways to build higher, and more magnificent buildings, where even our predictors knew simplest and most practical rules even used today… I think we should go back to our roots. Regards. Dom


Wal August 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I urge you to watch The Revelations of the Pyramids (YouTube) – a fantastic insight into the amazing pyramids in Egypt, Peru, Mexico and China (YES China !!??) It’s about 100 mins long but such compelling viewing it goes very quickly. The Pi and Phi usage and the generall feat of the constructions is mind blowing! I hope you enjoy! Regards, Wal


dan August 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

yes awesome, fascinating how the Egyptian pyramids and the Mayan step pyramids are similar, did you ever watch The New Chariots of the Gods on youtube, with Von Danikan, it’s like the Mayan pyramids have the same kind of astrological design incorporated into it that displays only at the equinox!!! on the other side of the world!!!:)


Gary Meisner August 21, 2012 at 12:25 am

Thanks, Wal, for your recommendation on Revelation of the Pyramids. Very fascinating. It lead me to add a page to the site on Phi and Pi in the dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.


Steven October 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm

When carpenters are building stairs there is a general rule that they follow in order to build a comfortable set of stairs. If you add the rise of the stair to the length of the run ( in inches ) you should get close to eighteen. A very nice rise ( especially for older folks ) is 6 3/4″ . Combine that with an 11″ run and you have a very comfortable set of stairs. 11 divided by 6 3/4 is 1.629… VERY close to PHI! This makes sense since the human body has the phi ratio all over it.


mau the dhuss November 28, 2012 at 1:47 am

close to phi is not phi


Gary Meisner December 1, 2012 at 9:54 am

That’s true, but from a practical viewpoint an 18″ run would result in a run of 11.1246118…” and a step height of 6.875388203…”, and no carpenter is going to be that precise. Note how the following more realistic options produce a result that illustrates a phi relationship:

Step Run Ratio
7.000 11.000 1.571
6.875 11.125 1.618
6.750 11.250 1.667


mau the dhuss November 28, 2012 at 1:16 am

great great great info for projects and reports.


TR January 31, 2013 at 11:12 am

does anyone more names of buildings with the golden number? thanks


jiya February 27, 2013 at 9:09 pm



Ellivo Architects March 24, 2013 at 11:49 pm

These images are showing best examples of good architectural designs. I am very impressed with these images.


tanveez October 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

is the ratio 0.618 or 1.618


Gary Meisner October 16, 2013 at 8:35 am

Either is correct, depending on the application as they are reciprocals of one another. If the ratio of the larger to the smaller is 1.618, then the ratio of the smaller to the larger is 0.618. 1.618 is often denoted as Phi with a capital “P” while 0.618 is denoted as phi with a lower case “p.”


Proumchin Vicheth November 10, 2013 at 4:29 am

I am an architect student in year 2. I am curious about the golden ratio. what is exact meaning of it? Could you give me more example or explain more about it?


Gary Meisner November 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm

For examples of applications of the golden ratio, see the PhiMatrix design applications page.


brocco December 3, 2013 at 5:49 pm

wow i don’t want to do math ever again


Person December 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Brocco, I agree with you.


Kredew January 24, 2014 at 3:50 am

Great buildings!


Jon Donnis February 7, 2014 at 9:37 am

I’m not buying into the “fact” that everything in nature is fractally composed of fractals.

Nor do I see the relevance of a few buildings which many will claim have no relationship to Phi.

I call pseudoscience, sorry Gary.


Gary Meisner February 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Some may claim that the buildings have no relationship to phi, but then where are their measures and evidence? You can’t just “refute” and “call pseudoscience” without presenting evidence to the contrary and then call it “science.” The images presented here and on the other pages referenced on the site give examples of golden ratio proportions. No statement is made that everything in nature is in golden ratio proportions either, but rather that it appears so commonly as to not be chance. Also, no “science” is implied in the application of phi to architecture. It’s just an artistic design choice to use proportions commonly found in nature and basic geometry, and that for those reasons appear natural and pleasing.


Jacob Hall February 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Does the Golden Ratio have any value for creating structures with durability? Sure, it looks pretty, but does it make things last when compared to other ratios?


william February 25, 2014 at 9:28 am

Dear Jacob,
I would like to say yes, from my understanding of ‘Sacred Geometry’..there is always something so special with the ratios of let us say the ‘Divine Proportion’ The smallest point is indicative of the Highest point. And therefore one asks …what is the microcosmic/macrocosmic relationship. One particular answer is as it were the Alpha and the Omega. We are dealing a sbject on an eternal level…if that is purely a conceptional view point or simply philosophical, I would suggest that it so important to bring into one’s equation of understanding that we can be dealing something so very real…that it is the unknown reality it’self and that the cosmos and life on earth is so valuable. It makes me wonder how it is possible to be as synic..not saying that you are …just saying that there is a great wonder to be deeply respcted universaly but in todays times on earth even so most importantly.We need to value nature on a level such as is so importantly required today and also that is it were not just human life but that of all creation and more fracking..God bless take care.. I hope we will all come more sensitivity to this very wonderful ‘world’ – enviroment that we do need to take care of–many blessings..all the best William


Vibhushit February 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Hello… I’m an student of architecture. thank you for sharing this information. I’m very inspired with Golden Ratio and I want to use it in my design problem as a concept. Do you have some more information regarding this. How to use Golden ratio in buildings.?


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