How many wingspans is your room?

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The story of “Alice in wonderland” by Lewis Caroll has always held a fascination for me, not only for its fantasy and philosophical context, but also for its play with scale. The idea of experiencing the environment at different sizes, from being 3 inches to 9 feet tall- gives interesting perspectives on scale. How does it feel to be in a space that is much larger or smaller than oneself? The size and scale of our bodies, is the dictating factor of how the spaces we build should be. And is probably the basis of most building standards that have evolved. And yet only the very dramatic get observed- the subtle impacts slipping into our mind unnoticed. The delight that children show when presented with a chair that they fit into, clearly indicates that we should be thinking and working with size and proportions. Even in a full-sized adult world, humans come in different sizes and how do subtle changes in dimension affect each of us?

To begin to understand this aspect of design and space, it is first important to know and enjoy the dimensions of one’s own body, which can then become a unit to think with. It is an absolute thrill to be able to measure spaces with one’s body initially and once good at it, with one’s mind. The units could be the span of ones stretched palm which may be from 6nches to 9 inches, the span of ones outstretched arms, horizontally, and also vertically? The pace of ones footstep? And stride? Once these dimensions become the basic units of our measurement, and there is practice, it’s almost a reflex action to be able to judge the coordinates of a room by merely being in it. It opens up facets of experiences and a heightened awareness of spaces which is quite fulfilling. It’s a bit like walking in a forest and graduating from admiring the “greenery” to first being able to identify the plants and trees and then maybe understanding their behaviour. Or birdwatching from “black bird” to “red beaked white breasted magpie”- it expands the vocabulary with which we understand the world around us, and may even be a starting point of why certain places appeal, dimension being only one small aspect of them.

While most architects and designers are taught this in the very first semester of school, and it comes under “ergonomics” of design, it needs to move out of the realm of specialists to everyone, who should be thinking as designers in their own right. It adds to the way of seeing the world, and helps to make the right choices when applicable. For young architects, a typical first exercise is to measure one’s own home, and room and bed, and so on… It is also an exercise I ask potential home-buyers/builders to do, as it gives a sense on what their personal comfort may be.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the aspect of understanding dimension and proportion does not make up the entire design, but is an important element that contributes to good design. So- if my room at home is 10 feet x 12 feet, but another room of 10 feet x 12 feet, does not feel the same- it could be due to so many factors, such as the windows, the door, the furniture … and the list is endless. But gradually if one does build skills of observation, the other elements too will stand out and find a place in your rationale.

Some fun links-–and-They-Still-Work.HJgGjJ8HBb.html

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Michelle

    nice piece.. Interesting information and reads welll.. good for students

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