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That’s how Fast Company summed up the golden ratio in April. According to writer John Brownlee, that mainstay of art appreciation classes and junior-high geometry is “total nonsense,” “an urban legend, a myth, a design unicorn.”
Interest goes back to ancient Greece or even earlier. In 300 BC, Euclid explained that the “golden ratio,” or Phi, occurs when a line can be divided into two segments so that the ratio of the overall line to the longer segment matches the ratio of the longer to the shorter. Subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on. Astronomer Johannes Kepler called Phi geometry’s “precious jewel,” and Renaissance artists considered it the “divine proportion.” The golden rectangle appears — or is said to appear — in works of art and architecture throughout history.
“Many designers don’t use it,” complains Brownlee, “and if they do, they vastly discount its importance.” After acknowledging that “greats like Le Corbusier” used the golden ratio in their work, he devotes nearly a third of his article to quoting architects and designers who don’t: “It’s important as a tool, but not a rule” (Yves Béhar). What “rule” does he mean? As an architect with 25 years of experience, I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that the golden rectangle should be considered aesthetic law or even a common technique. […]