PERCEPTION through SCALES and CONVERSIONS -Issues or Design -3

Post 606 by Gautam Shah 


Our Faculties of Perceptions have inherent limitations. Our capacity of viewing, hearing, tasting or experiencing is within certain range. Beyond this natural range, our body shuts off the mechanism of perception, tones the reception to within the capacity of the body, or convert the sensations to some other form of experience. With certain tools we can enlarge or enhance the comprehension.


Forced Perspective of Gallery at Palazzo Spada Rome by Francesco Borromini 1632 > 8.6 mt long gallery gives illusion of 4 times the length > Wikipedia image by Livioandronico2013

We deal with entities in following order:

  1.  As they really exist in original measures, if in perceptible range.
  2. In their scaled representations, to bring them in a perceptible and manipulable range and for storage.
  3. Experience the imperceptible entities after their conversion to some other form.

Facade of Pantheon Paris -a proposal by Jacques-Germain Soufflo > Wikipedia image


Same Facade of Pantheon Paris with few changes but different light-shade > Wikipedia – Flickr image by besopha

We primarily perceive objects and happenings as they directly affect our sensorial faculties, with whatever their inherent limitations. We experience objects through the sensory affectations like light, colour, sound, temperature, smell, pressure, etc., as caused to our body. But such affectations are very subjective, and not easily accountable to any universal system of measurements. We can, however, emulate the changes elsewhere (as equivalents of physio-chemical-electrical changes in our body) and measure the ‘scale’ sensory affectations. For example, we measure the temperature as it affects the mass of mercury or a metal sensor. This allows measurements of range beyond body’s nominal capacity. Similarly inaudible sounds such as in ‘ultra or infra’ range can also be measured.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging MRI > Wikipedia image by KasugaHuang

Real and Scaled entities need a familiar anchorage to set the orientation or reference. Maps and plans are nominally set to North as upward direction, or building entrance accessed from ‘plan read sides’ such as the bottom-up or right-inward. A sea or vast terrain map, requires a superimposed location matrix of Latitude and Longitude, and often Altitude from the mean sea level. Planetary maps are referenced with some familiar stars or configurations like constellations. Maps are reduced (or enlarged) to include a familiar feature like a coastline.


First Floor Plan of Winn Memorial library Woburn MA USA > Here seen as a flipped over image for a different perception > Wikipedia image

As a designer, a persistent exposure of certain views like plans, elevations, etc. is inevitable. The graphical compositions (of massing of objects, lineal flows, form-shapes, etc.) and their orientation from ‘image-read side’ conditions or rather mesmerizes the designers. To break of this persistency, one needs to re-look at the image by changing its orientation, changing the tonal value of a colour or monochrome image, by altering the scale of the image, by reversing (backside to front) or mirroring the image. Similar conditions arise when dealing with 3D objects like models. Architectural models are small size replicas of larger entities. These are more often than not seen from the top, creating a bias for ‘bird-eye’ view, resulting in articulated detailing of upper sections at the cost of road level specifics. Similarly architectural models deal more with the exteriors, and less to the interior configuration. This is sought to be resolved by placing or inserting ‘scope’ or thin tube-cameras in the lower and interior sections or by CAD aided 3D views.


Model of Marina Bay sands > Wikipedia image by Huaiwei

We record our experiences for posterity over some media, in some scalable version. A scaled and recorded version allow faster access and manipulation while reducing the storage space. A site plan drawn at a smaller scale allows one to comprehend larger extent, or the enlarged detail allows greater attention. Scaling also allows to override or attend to details. Designers are trained to manipulate, arrange, or compose scaled representations, and generally achieve results equal to their real size forms. Small scale models are replicas of the larger-real size object, though with fewer or selective details, and are used for variety of design processes.


For a Designer At any scale Perception remains consistent > Image from Pixabay by geralt

We generate plans and such representations of objects in monochrome colour, not just for the sake of printing economy, but to remove the biassed perception of colours. An ‘equal colour’ image allows for neat spatial experience. Conversely Sciography (=study of shades and shadows cast by simple architectural forms on plane surfaces) is used for accentuating the mass-void configuration. But problems arise due to vastly different results offered by Sciography over coloured versus monochrome objects.


Palais Garnier Entrance > Wikipedia image by Charles Garnier (1825-1898)

Surrogate, Metaphoric and Symbolic Representations: These are perceptions through conversions. Here we deal with complex entities by converting or translating them into Surrogate, Metaphoric and Symbolic representations. Designers work with such representations to achieve their design objectives. We use symbols like parallel line hatching to represent brickwork, trees on a contour map, lightening bar to show high voltage electrical current. Different trades have accepted signs and symbols to represent frequently used objects.


A Thermogram > Wikipedia image by Passivhaus Institute

Graphical Representations: Temperature or heartbeats as represented in a graph chart like a Thermal-gram or a Cardiogram, do not convey anything to a lay person. A written musical scale or stenographer’s phonetic language notes do not recreate the original sound, yet convey the meaning. A graphical representation stands for the original in a restricted sense. Nominally graphical representations are difficult to read, but with frequent exposure, one gains the proficiency to automatically interpret the conveyed information, as if it is the real happening. Such proficiencies are circumstance and person specific, and cannot be replicated everywhere or by everyone. Graphical representations, often create an ‘artistic’, proportionate, or an ‘aesthetic composition’ on their own.


Aviator’s Night vision Imaging system > Wikipedia image by Koalorka at en.wikipedia

In some situations Designers deal with a secondary graphical or scaled formation that represents another graphical or scaled entity. Designers, who deal with a variety of representations, scaled, graphical or metaphoric, are often not aware of the levels of conversions that distance the original. They are also oblivious of the transition from one form of representation to another. It becomes a ‘second nature’ for them. It is only when the desired objectives are not achieved, or when some unusual phenomena are discovered that a designer begins to re-search the process.


This is 3rd article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN