SIZING and SCALING the SPACES -Issues of Design 23

Post 674 –by Gautam Shah



Sizing of architectural entities is accomplished in Three manners. 1, as a primary reference, the sizes are perceived in human measures, 2, in a second consideration, the sizes mean physical capacities of human body representing the work capacities, physical reach and sensorial reach of perception, and 3, lastly the sizes are mutually related for proportioning, irrespective of the human relevance.


In the 1st case, the sizes are relative to the human measures, and these had formed the first set of scales in all cultures. The innate reference to the human measures survived, in spite of the standardization to overcome the racial-anthropological variations and cultural preferences. Digitized measures of Metric system completely abstracted the measures, and absolute alienation occurred.


For the 2nd example, the sizes reflect the physical capacities of the body and sensorial reach of perception. Typically, for very long time travel distances were expressed in time, required for walking or running (or number of lunch-rest, feed for horses, required). Wheat and other agricultural products were transacted by numbers or volume capacities like bushel or basket. Displacement (carriage) of goods was in terms of oxen or horse power. Architecturally a wall was measured in terms of (volume x distance) displacement of stones rather than the volumetric measure of the finished structure. The ‘culture of measures was complicated by fractioning or multiplying the ‘measures’ for conversion to the abstract entity like money.


With 3rd instance, the sizes are perceived to be pure numbers. The pure numbers have some basic linear ascending or descending sequences. This character is difficult to understand or justify, and ‘too dry or latent’ to be meaningful. But, it has a mathematical confirmation across many sensorial experiences and presence of physical objects. The mathematical order, however is a confirmation or satiation that occurs after the creation, and is rarely an input for planning.

The sizes are considered as pure numbers to ‘apportion’ physical objects or sensorial experiences, as large, small or equal. Such apportioning of the physical objects or sensorial experiences is intentional or comes as a revelation. But it is an achievement that offers certain applicable aesthetic relationships. Corbusier in his Modulor compared the sizes with pure numbers, and derived a universally applicable set of aesthetic relationships. Vitruvius remained, with the mutual comparison of (human) sizes, but yet had some aesthetic derivations.



Sizes are mutually related as functional or accommodative operants, or are considered as pure numbers with ‘mathematical’ sense, and a comparison ensues. The relationship is basically between ‘this and that’. Here both the entities are physically in the same realm, of identical sensorial realization, or one of it is in a different time or space. In the last case the remembrances or records bring forth the proportions. Proportioning is ordering of an arrangement. It follows some analogy, sequencing, proximity or context. There are two levels of proportions: formed between equals and unequals. Equal entities, even if spread over extensive area, begin to ‘loop in the coexisting things’ into a holistic domain. Unequal things must be contextually together to make a ‘sense of being a system’.


When a space is Sized or dwelled, it confers certain functionality and sufficiency. Comparison is made out in terms of ergonomic suitability and sensorial adequacy. But when a space is Scaled, it forms a comparative order between various constituents. Sizing a space specifies, the nature of cognition, human reach, nature of communication and inverse affectations. The levels of privacy, intimacy, loss of objectivity and subjective involvements that occur in a space, are governed by its size. Scaling a space, offers means of perpetuating the satisfaction that one draws out of natural, created or realized things. Scattered elements manifest may reveal, some day the order of scaling or pattern of arrangement. This is an intellectual confirmation.


Size has a close affinity to the orientation of ‘lay’ of the space. The direction of smaller or larger size gives a feel of a deep and shallow space. The orientation gains relevance because it is aligned with our sensorial nodes. The sensorial nodes are highly directional whereas the bi-nodal faculties like eyes and ears help the focussing. Similarly with the sense of direction we perceive the change in speed. The variations in progress and movement both define the ‘lay’ of the space. This experience is true for deaf and blind persons.


Scale is perceived irrespective of the measure, being simply relationship between numbers. To read a measure one must read the object in ‘ortho’ mode (straight, upright, right, correct). A projection system used in maps, architecture etc. where the rays are parallel. So the scaling or proportion system works, but can it work in a perspective mode? A building can have three major planes simultaneously perceptible, but affected by the visual foreshortening. Can the scaled relationships remain valid in perspective perception?



Measurement scaling, from mathematical series, Vitruvian or Corbusier’s Modulor systems were created for built forms and products. At a similar level musical scales and recitation metres have been defined. But can these musical scales and recitation metres be transposed to other scenarios like architecture? Conversely can anyone create musical composition with Corbusier’s Modulor system or use literary recitation metres for building design? Often numerical values are assigned to various types of data like opinions, judgements, and concepts, are these numbers amenable to scaling, and provide any rationale.


Functionality and the Environment are difficult to separate, as one seems to manifest the other. Spaces within the known range (of recognition) are predictable and so manageable. So strangeness or alienation of spaces is reduced by introducing elements that form a scale. Such scaling elements also serve other purposes like repetitions, rhythmic evolution, structured patterning, sensory gradation, acceleration-de-acceleration, graduated changeovers, linkages, etc. Such scaling elements also occur naturally, like shadows. In architecture orthographic sciography the relationship is of 45°.


Scaling is a perception of relationships that are not just visual but involving all sensorial faculties. So when due to the environmental conditions or personal sensorial deficiencies, the sense of scaling may get fogged but for only one or few and not all faculties.


This is the 23 nd (in continuation of old series -new beginning) article on ISSUES of DESIGN