The 7 Elements of Unity | Aesthetic Components of Design

The principle of Unity deals with visual composition in design. Composition means the relationship between the visual elements. The brick work, timber and concrete which we use as building materials for protection from weather or for structural support form the visual composition of architectural composition. To get a good composition, the elements of unity should be chosen carefully.

Composite texture made by Brick and Wood

Unity therefore deals with the arrangement of building materials and building parts (floor, wall, roof, column, beam, etc) to create a good composition.

7 key Elements of Unity

  1. Texture
  2. Colour
  3. Tone
  4. Direction
  5. Proportion
  6. Solid and Void
  7. Form and Shape

Consider materials such as stone, glass and steel. They are available in a variety of colours, tones, textures, shapes, proportions, etc. Various compositions of these material properties are possible-the challenge lies in arising at the most pleasing composition. The texture or colour of a single brick or wood panel will differ in effect when it forms a part of the larger composition such as brick wall or a door frame set in a wall.


The word texture generally refers to the appearance and feel of a surface. However, it could also mean the physical composition or structure of something, especially with respect to its size, shape and arrangement of its parts.

A house in Switzerland

In this figure, a variety of textures can be seen in the roofs, walls and paving. Strongly identifiable shapes in roofs and battered walls are seen as repeated units, presenting a definite and distinguishable feel of the surface.

Individual dwellings within a group, as well as decorations and carvings in buildings can create an effect of texture.


Here colour refers to hue (colour range). Colour is one of the pronounced elements of aesthetics and its selection is very crucial to the overall effect it has on aesthetics. A variety of effects can be produced by varying luminance, fullness and its transparency.


Tone is related to the colour theory and varies from the neutral scale of white to black through a range of greys. This plays an important role in drawings used to represent buildings.


Every building has elements which suggest direction. In most buildings, these are strong elements that suggest vertical and horizontal direction. The total shape of the building, or parts of the building or its structural components (beam, column, wall, ceiling etc) its windows and other openings all suggest the direction.

Example: City Theatre, Helsinki, Finland

City Theatre, Helsinki, Finland

This building shows a strong dominance of horizontality given by the roof line and overhang in contrast from the columns. The directional emphasis is reinforced by the use of a strongly ribbed cladding tile, which can be seen running horizontally on the eaves soffit and the beams linking the column heads and the solid parts of the wall behind them.

Here a dominantly vertical composition is shown where the verticality is reinforced by the faceting of the envelope. Contrast is given by the generally horizontal emphasis of the fenestration. The curving round of the plan affords more window space for the living accommodation of the southerly side relative to the service and circulation space on the north i.e., stairs, lifts, passage access to flats.


In this context, proportion is the geometric relationship of the sides of volumes (e.g., rectangles). It is also the ratio and comparative size of individual parts of the composition.

Ducal Palace, Urbino, Paris illustrates the concept of unity through proportions.

Ducal Palace, Urbino
Ducal Palace, Urbino, Paris

We cannot measure these relationships accurately by eye, but we can compare them and try to judge the relationship of one to another on proportional basis.

Buildings belonging to Classical and Gothic Architecture have better proportional relationships than most buildings today.

Solid and Void

The relationship between solid (walls, roofs, etc) and void (windows and other openings) structural units is very  important to form a good composition.

Cemetery Chapel, Turku, Finland
Cemetery Chapel, Turku, Finland

Cemetery Chapel, Turku, Finland shows the relationship between solid and void structural units. In this structure, the dominance of solid material contributes to the sense of enduring unity.

Form and Shape

Form and shape can be clearly observed in the overall arrangement of a building or in parts of a building (windows, doors etc) which have geometric shapes. Repetition or variation of a particular form can provide strong elements of composition.

Parts of a building, for example, windows depicting form represent geometric shapes such as a square or a rectangle. Repetition of a window unit form a good element of composition.

Shape helps to identify different forms, for example, the pitch of a roof will provide a certain form which is easy to identify and also easy to relate to other roofs which have a similar pitch. When a roof is of a distinctly different shape, it will look strongly dissimilar.

19 thoughts on “The 7 Elements of Unity | Aesthetic Components of Design”

  1. I have the elements of aesthetics listed as mass nd shape, proportion, symmetry, balance, contrast pattern, decoration and massing….are these any diff from the ones described here or thats the same thing…??? *confused*

  2. hello great site. im a student and im struggling with finding a balance between form and function. i believe that the most important thing is for the architecture to work but often the result is not aesthetically pleasing.

    • Hello Shawhill,
      According to me, Architecture is not just about making a functional design but also making an aesthetically pleasing structure which the world would want to admire. If it was just about making it work then the world wouldnt need Architects…

      Architects have the ability to think out of the box… explore their creative genius and create something unique!

      Understanding “Form and Function” is very important for an Architect. This could be interpreted in various ways. It is up to you to understand it and go in the right direction.
      Form and Function are both interrelated and interdependent factors.
      For example:
      If you are designing a Hospital, then you major focus would be functionality without any doubt but since you are an Architect and you possess the incredible skill that noone else does, aesthetics also play an indispensible role in design. And also remember, every building has its own character (like everyone of us has a unique identity); don’t design the elevation of the Hospital in a way that it would end up looking like a museum…

      All I would like to say is, just thinking about design is not enough…dream about it…live the space you want to create…learn to visualize and feel the space you are designing…
      then you will realize the joy of designing and the immense amount of work required to achieve it…!

      Cheers 🙂

  3. hey there great post heres allitle somesthing you may have missed

    Line can be considered in two ways. The linear marks made with a pen or brush or the edge created when two shapes meet.

    A shape is a self contained defined area of geometric or organic form. A positive shape in a painting automatically creates a negative shape.

    All lines have direction – Horizontal, Vertical or Oblique. Horizontal suggests calmness, stability and tranquillity. Vertical gives a feeling of balance, formality and alertness. Oblique suggests movement and action

    Size is simply the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another.

    Texture is the surface quality of a shape – rough, smooth, soft hard glossy etc. Texture can be physical (tactile) or visual.
    see notes on texture

    Also called Hue

    Value is the lightness or darkness of a colour. Value is also called Tone

  4. Hi Benzulk,
    You say that ‘understanding “Form and Function” is very important for an Architect’. I think you identify one of the most crucial aspects of the discipline, and one that many architects fail to grasp. In my view, often the emphasis of a design leans too far towards form, and consequently functionality is neglected. Certainly it is easy for architects to fall into this trap as they immerse themselves in the creative process, yet the notion of a building’s utility and sustainability is perhaps the most important consideration and one that should always be at the forefront of the architect’s mind.

    • Hello Sadhan,
      You can also share your views as to how you carried out your research work. This will help others as well as yourself. Maybe, there might be certain things you might have missed in your research work.

      We are extremely glad to see that our articles have been of help to you. Do keep visiting and sharing.

      All the best!

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