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“Oh I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts’ secrets, Igor,” said Dumbledore amicably. “Only this morning, for instance, I took a wrong turning on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I have never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished. (Harry Potter 4 [US Version]: p.417)[Bold font is mine]

A dictionary says proportioned is

(used especially after an adverb) having parts that relate in size to other parts in the way that is described

Considering the above explanation, I tentatively understand ‘a well (or beautifully) proportioned room’ has nicely balanced lengths of each side, as one large box. Also, I’m thinking ‘beautifully proportioned’ is a kind of compliment.

To be frank, however, I’m feeling a little strange about my understanding. The relation of three side lengths in a room doesn’t matter so much to me, because Japanese rooms are basically made of unified standard of tatami mat or fusuma screen, which automatically make rooms some-extent-proportioned ones. When I speak my mother tongue, I wouldn’t bother to explain how the room is proportioned unless I am an architect or unless the room is a special art. I would praise not the proportion of the room, the container, but the color or material of the accessories mainly (or only).

So, I’m curious about what “a beautifully proportioned room” really means. Here are my questions;

  1. Does it mean that the room has golden ratio in three sides?
  2. Does it mean the room is a great artwork which you would like to put in a museum?
  3. Does it describe (or praise) only a room as a box? (I’d like to know if the concept of a room includes the accessories of the room; furniture, border, curtains, or fireplace. If so, does it refer to only their layout?)
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Sometimes it can be beneficial to look at image search for the exact phrase: goo.gl/vuqy1 , however I am not sure how helpful it is in this case. –  Unreason Jul 21 '11 at 8:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

First, we are speaking of the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series. One of the characteristics of the room is that it will present itself in time of need to someone who needs it, and that it will be sized and equipped to match those needs. It has been everything from a broom closet to a coed barracks (apparently for at least a couple of dozen people) over the course of the series. (Sorry if that's a plot spoiler, but you did ask.)

We cannot assume the golden ratio, but we can assume that the relationship of the length, width and height would have been something Dumbledore would have found pleasing to the eye. At various times, European design has had a number of different views of beautiful proportionality. It may even have been a circular room at the time, since Dumbledore's office (and, one would assume, living quarters) seem to have been circular.

We can assume, however, that the room would have been neither too small nor too large for the purpose it was fulfilling at the time. Exactly what that size might have been is difficult to say, but keep in mind that it was (at the time) a lavatory for one person, but with a selection of commodes arranged (given the urgency of the situation) so that one could easily choose a favorite design without having to wander through a great warehouse to find it. I may imagine exactly the right size differently from the way you would imagine it, but the room would have been exactly the right size for Dumbledore. And yes, it would have been equipped with whatever furnishings Dumbledore would have thought appropriate for a lavatory.

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What a marvelously-proportioned reply! I can't help thinking Rowling's idea owes much to prior familiarity with Doctor Who's Tardis which is also appropriately and variably sized according to requirements. –  FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 16:47

It means a room, the proportions of which are beautiful. There is no ulterior or secondary meaning here.

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Entirely true, but not necessarily helpful. It might have been worth explaining how in the West rooms can be considered beautiful in themselves, regardless of what they contain. –  TimLymington Aug 1 '11 at 22:17
TimLymington: That rather presupposes that that is not something non-westerners would have occur to them. In any case, it would not add one more piece of information, as if rooms could not be beautiful in themselves, I couldn't have written the first sentence above. –  Marcin Aug 2 '11 at 6:50

An RIBA policy paper in 2007 included this:

Good design contributes to a sense of wellbeing – statistics have shown that over £2 billion per year is spent treating illness arising from poor housing stock – more than is spent by local authorities on the building stock itself.

If you feel good / feel a room is good / on entering maybe that is "beautifully proportioned. Or maybe, as I've noticed, a number of well known designs have been built using things like "golden ratio", "golden rectangle", "golden section" and this is the criterion.

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