humans and architecture – scale

If you’ve ever hung out at a bar with me for more than 30 seconds, the conversation will invariably turn to one of two topics…or even both simultaneously – politics and architecture. Being passionate about both my country and my profession I spend a great deal of my day engrossed in these two subjects almost exclusively. And obviously I’m loud, opinionated and like to talk to people.

And one of the themes that has surged in architectural design in the last decade or so is the idea of scale, and more specifically human scale. While this is not a new topic or concept in architecture, it has been overlooked and sometimes outright ignored in some architectural styles over the years. Modernism and Post-Modernism are two good examples of this. Think about every commercial structure built during the 80s. Eck! :-\

Lately however this concept has come back almost in the background, as an unconscious principle of architecture. But what is “scale”? And more importantly what is “human scale” and how does it relate to architecture? We’re all familiar with Le Corbusier’s Modular Man. If not, you better recognize! 😛

Le Corbusier - "Modular Man"

The genius of what Le Corbusier did was to systematically break down the human form as a scalable figure and then apply those measurements to everyday items from buildings to forks to furniture, etc. And now, as the McMansion Mania has ended and we’re moving to quality over quantity, this notion of “scale” has snuck its way back into design, especially in residential architecture. Take a look at the image below. Top and bottom I’ve placed your typical modern suburban monstrosity and a modern modular home. Which do you think was designed with the human scale in mind?

typical modern suburban monstrosity courtesy of google

modern modular home by Hive Modern

And now ask yourself, which would you feel more comfortable living in? The bottom line here is that human scale, human comfort, is an extremely important factor in architectural design – if not the most important. And while this trend has, as I said, snuck back into modern design, it is becoming more and more obviously stated as we move towards the notion of “aging in place” and universal design. How the human body functions at all stages of life is becoming a more central focus in architecture, rather than just how we move and function in our prime.

So the next time you’re sitting around looking at those plan books contemplating your next home or addition, take a second to think about talking with someone that will design a space that will work for you and your family on a human level.

8 thoughts on “humans and architecture – scale

  1. I think my opinion is obvious to those who’ve read my blog…go Hive Modern! Also, thanks for not leaving me to be the only one with cynical and sarcastic comments about suburban plan book houses. “Typical modern suburban monstrosity” That beats anything I’ve ever said. Maybe being sarcastic doesn’t help in the long run, but how else can you put into words the disaster we’ve committed to our land with endless winding cul-de-sacs full of this stuff? Great post, keep it up. I actually giggled, and then cried.

  2. “typical modern suburban monstrosity” – hi hi I like this! I also like the assertion of “quality over the quantity”. I will keep this in mind.
    Well, my money will be on Hive’s too, even that I am not a fan of “modular houses”. This one is up to scale mostly because it had to be transported with a trailer.
    Good post!

  3. All those last years I was trying to figure a sort of architecture ideology regarding the very practical purpose of it mostly the relationship with the building developers.
    The main problem is that many of them are just developing some half-thinking systems to bring money: It costs me 1 million, I sold it with 2 millions, good job! They neglected any type of study and research of the market, of the real need of the buyers (the real beneficiaries of the built spaces).
    Your assertions helped me give a name to all this system: “Quantity over quality”. On an ever growing market there was little room for the quality, the key of the success was the quantity and quantity only.
    I wrote some articles (mostly in Romanian) about the way that all this was miss-leaded and about the way that any new building development should be based on a very good understanding of the real market, the real buyers, the real needs, the environment.
    So you really-really helped me. I was thinking about the same thing, but I couldn’t give such simple and elegant definition!

  4. Jeremiah – a good case for design – using the human scale. I wonder what a non-architect would think about the two images. I’ve found that most would think the bottom house ‘weird’ and see the top as something they would like to live in. Doesn’t it just look like a palace with the columned archway and lamps set at nine feet up the columns?
    I wonder how they layperson would answer your question, “which one would you like to live in?”. Not so sure that it is a no-brainer that people would prefer the second.

    • Enoch, I think you hit the heart of the matter, and something I’ve been talking about for a while now.
      Quote “Not so sure that it is a no-brainer that people would prefer the second.” End Quote.
      I’ve talked before about a focus group I sat in on for Habitat Housing where they brought in current and potential homeowners to get an idea of the style and materials “average” people would want in a new home. The results were…..discouraging to say the least. I nearly walked out at one point.
      There is a generational mindset that the post-war “suburban utopian house” is still the “it” for homeownership. And it’s very sad that the average person doesn’t realize how much they must sacrifice in order to “fit” themselves into this type of home. What’s worse is we’ve fostered such a “instant gratification” society that our clients aren’t willing to take a little extra time to design a home that will fit their lifestyle and be able to adapt to a changed lifestyle. Gone were the days when people bought homes “forever”. But we’re seeing a turn in the market back towards this type of thinking. Especially in an economy where nothing seems stable. Clients are looking for ultimate value for every dollar spent, and they are realizing they WON’T find this in big box home retailers out in the suburbs.

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