scale and architecture

1   b   c   d   e

ideas [about scale]
A number of ideas have come together lately, concerning scale in architecture that I now want to write down. Initially these ideas came together because of the possible summer Temple summer architecture recruiting course lecture/project idea I had and have since evolved into a chapter for a possible architectural primer or, even better, a chapter for the book on architecture literacy that I have given some cursory thought to. The following is a list of the ideas and the subsequent notes will expound on each item of this list.
a. the conversion of English to metric and what 1/8 or 1/16 etc. really means
b. the gigantism of Piranesi
c. the colossal in today's built environment
d. the history of the world's tallest buildings
e. the purposefully reduced scale of Disneyland
f. Durand and the political history of architecture scale
g. contemporary plan comparisons
h. brief history of how scale has been treated within architectural theory thus far
i. 3-D superimposition of Giza pyramids and Center City Philadelphia
j. Venturi's house for Absecon

scale conversions
The conversion from English to metric is easy once one realizes the 1/8" scale is actually 1:96 and 1/4" scale is 1:48, etc. Both of these are close to the metric scales of 1:100 and 1:50, respectively. The key being to forget the specific units of measure and just concentrate on the ratios. For example, a plan at 1/4" scale represent a plan that is 1/48th the actual size of the building delineated. Most American architects are still not consciously aware of the ratio factor that is inherent in any scaled drawing. This example can be taken a step further when 1/48th is again converted into approximately 2% actual size. In percentage, 1/8th scale is very close to 1% actual size.
These conversion examples bring to light that scale intrinsically involves a ratio of some kind.
ratio 1 a : the real ground or nature of a thing esp. as determined by its relation to other things   2 a : the quotient of one quantity divided by another   b : the fixed or approximate relation of one thing to another or between two or more things (as in number, quantity, or degree)
7scale 1 a (1) : an indication of the relationship between the distances on a map, chart, or plan and the corresponding actual distances usu. in the form of a direct statement (as 1 inch to 1 mile), a representative fraction (as 1/250,000 or 1:250,000) a graphic measure (as a bar or line), or a line subdivided at selected intervals   b : a mathematical instrument consisting of a strip (as of wood, plastic, or metal) with one or more sets of spaces graduated and numbered on its surface and used esp. for measuring or laying off distances and dimensions   7 a : relative size of esp. architectural parts as compared with the whole or with the human figure   b : proper intended size, proportion, and relationship with reference to other elements and to the whole or to its setting
in scale : in conformity with its surrounding
The two definitions cover all the basic notions of scale and thus manifest the range within any discussion on scale can take place.

Piranesian gigantism
Piranesi's Campo Marzio is full of gigantic plans that are on a scale virtually unrealized in actual built architecture. In simple terms, this overuse of size can represent Piranesi's wish to express the grandness of ancient Rome. Beyond that, it is at this point difficult to make any other interpretation. The real issue seems to be that when so many gigantic plans are seen together, the sense of actual scale is lost. The large plans themselves quite naturally are in turn perceived as buildings that are only something like half their actual size. I think this normal misinterpretation of scale is part of the general enigma that the plan of the Campo Marzio conjures up. The plan seems to have multiple layers of unfathomability, and the ambiguity of scale is indeed one of these layers.
1fathom 1 a obs : a full stretch of the arms in a straight line; also : GRASP, REACH   b : intellectual grasp, penetration or profundity : COMPREHENSION   2 a : a unit of length equal to 6 feet based on the distance between finger tips of a man's outstretched arms and used esp. for measuring the depth of water -- sometimes used in the singular when qualified by a number   b archaic : any of several units of length varying around 5 and 51/2 feet
2fathom 1 archaic : to encircle (as for measuring) with outstretched arms   2 a : to measure by a sounding line   b : to penetrate (as a mystery) and come to understand : comprehend where one had not understood previously : get to the bottom of ~ vi : to take soundings; also : PROBE, INVESTIGATE
fathomable 1 : that can be sounded   2 : capable of being comprehended
unfathomed 1 : not fathomed : UNSOUNDED   2 : UNDETERMINED, IMMENSE
The gigantism of Piranesi's Campo Marzio becomes perfectly evident when it is compared with other urban plans at the same scale. I have already done some comparative analysis between the Campo Marzio and parts of Center City Philadelphia, particularly the area around the Philadelphia Museum of Art because that building and the plan of the Benj. Franklin Parkway are themselves, in general, fine examples of an urban design gigantism practiced in America in the early twentieth century. I will have to do more drawings that show greater amounts of area, and I shall perhaps also compose some overlay drawings (meaning superimposed plans).
If anything, this exercise would be a lesson in scale and, in particular, gigantic scale. It could perhaps lead to a better understanding of Piranesi's intention and his ideas on urbanism, and it might also lead to a fine understanding of urban scale in general, where the Campo Marzio may actually shed some light on the urban situation of some actual cities, in this case, Philadelphia.   3135

idea of the colossal
The idea of the colossal in today's built environment... for and call out colossal elements in today's built world. ...look at the built environment with some aspect of a critical eye. ...the notion that the colossal and the grand have become secularized and paradoxically downplayed. ...find that non-special built things, like highway ramps and mall parking lots are at the very core of todays colossal built entities. The subtlty comes in with the realization that the grand today does not at all mean special, in fact, much of the colossal in today's environment is actually void.

tallest building in the world
It has always fascinated me that the Great Pyramid in Egypt was the tallest building in the world for over 4,000 years, and that it is also one of the oldest buildings in the world. Of further fascination is the fact that one of the few buildings to ever come close to the great pyramid was Michelangelo's basilica and dome at St. Peter's in Rome. Symbolically, it intrigued me that the ancient rivalry between old Egypt and monotheism should play itself out in two enormously monumental buildings.
The practical lesson here, however, is again about scale, and specifically the history of height in architecture.Today we are, in a sense, spoiled by high buildings and do not realize how rare tallness in architecture is when the total history of architecture is taken into consideration.
To me, the fact that the Pyramids will most likely forever hold the record of the world's tallest building for the longest amount of time gives it an added significance, a place in architectural history that no other building is likely to supersede. Using the Great Pyramid as the prototype then, for the world's tallest building, might provide insight to an analysis of the world's tallest buildings of the last two centuries. I should at least find out what those buildings have been. I already know what the last three tallest buildings are: Sears Tower, Chicago, the World Trade Center, New York City, and the Empire State Building, New York City.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops was originally 146.4m (480 ft) high. The Pyramid of Chephren was originall 143m (470 ft) high. The height of St.Peter's in Rome, from pavement to top of cross, is 452 ft. Up until now I had no idea that the second pyramid was also taller than St. Peter's in Rome. This makes me wonder what building finally broke the Pyramid record.
1974 Sears Tower, Chicago 442m (1450ft)
1972 World Trade Center, NYC 411m (1350 ft)
1931 Empire State Building 381m (1250 ft)
1930 Chrysler Building, NYC 319m (1046 ft)
1889 Eiffel Tower 300m (985 ft)
1877-90 Ulm Cathedral 161m (529 ft)
1848-54 Washington Monument 170m (555ft)
1824-90 Cologne Cathedral 152m (500ft)
1500's Beauvais C. 152m (500ft)
1230-1365 Strasbourg Cathedral 142m (466)
This research as brought many new things to light and I feel I have a much better understanding of the history of the world's tallest buildings. I find it interesting that the short lived spire at Beauvais was the first structure to surpass the Great Pyramid in height. Another interesting fact is the seeming limit in height around 500 ft., and how the new limit seems to be something over 1000 ft.
The other thing that fascinates me is the fact that the structure after the failed spire at Beauvais to finally surpass the pyramids is the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. The great irony is that the pyramids were finally surpassed by an obelisk. In any case, two ancient forms are still among the tallest structures in the world.   3136

"Main Street" at Disneyland
A sort of reversed notion of scale is played on "Main Street" at Disneyland where the buildings are purposefully reduced in scale to give off a cozier feeling. I'm not sure what the exact ratio is, but it may be something like 7/8th the actual size. I just thought this is a good example of how the general notion of scale is used although I myself am critical of it as a purposeful manipulation and even falsification of the truth. I see it as regressive rather than progressive and in general leads to an inaccurate system of judgment. It is purposefully "unreal."

series of contemporary plans
I already have a series of contemporary plans that are in the computer at the same scale. This goes right along with what I was just writing about in reference to Durand. I also know that I can create a database where it would be a 3-D rendition of all the plans, creating a virtual reality of unbuilt architecture. I did do something along these lines though when I created the Corbu/Kahn/Stirling composite building.

Durand's Recueil et Parallèle
Durand's Recueil et Parallèle... is one of the great books on architecture that also has one of the subtlest messages a book on architecture can have. It contains 70 or so plates full of plans and elevations of world buildings categorized according to building type. The wonderful thing about the book is that almost all the drawings are at the same scale (with the elevations about twice the scale of the plans, however). The full title is Recueil et Parallèls des edifices de tout genres anciens & modern (Collection and Parallels of Every Building Type, Ancient and Modern).
After I owned the book for awhile, I figured out what Durand was up to. In a very subtle way he was showing how the architecture of France was the biggest architecture in the world. Since the book was first published just after the French Revolution, I surmised that Durand probably had a very distinct political intention in mind. He was purposefully exhibiting the greatness of France by comparing its architecture to all the great architecture of the world. The French examples come mostly at the end of the book, which is more or less correct chronologically, but the "ending" also carries the notion of climax and even epiphany or revelation, as if the manifested grandness of French architecture is the pinnacle of world architecture.
There is, of course, much else to learn from this book. The whole categorization of buildings into type is extremely informative in its listing of what types there actually are, as well as seeing them in comparable size. For example, one begins to see how various building types have their own relative size. Like temples, or churches, or theaters all have a range in size that most of their respective examples fall into. This leads me to wonder if I should somehow try to establish some kind of documentation as to the relative size of types. I also wonder if I can somehow scan in the various plans (or even just redraw the plans on the computer) to create my own groupings of scale (regardless of type, let's say). I just realized that I could begin to compile my own Recueil using all the data I already have: the building models, some stray plans, the Philadelphia plan, my own designs, the Parkway project, and the Campo Marzio plans.

some reading on scale
I have been doing some reading on scale in various general architecture books (Experiencing Architecture and Gaudie's Architecture) and I am pleased to find that in every case, the notion of architectureal scale involves just two factors: the relationship of elements within a building and building elements compared to the human figure.
I realized that the existing writing on architectural scale does not deal with the issue of comparing buildings to other buildings (except for Durand)...

Giza over Philadelphia
...the Pyramid complex at Giza would be superimposed over the 3-D model of Philadelphia. I got this idea because the big pyramid is very near the height of City Hall. It will make a very interesting set of perspective drawings and will certainly be an eye opener in terms of comparative scale.

House in Absecon
Venturi and Rauch's House for Absecon offers some very interesting scale issues that provide excellent examples of scale used in contemporary design. The first issue, of course, is the colossal order applied to each facade. The second issue is the overscaled windows. And the third issue is the overall impression that the house is smaller that it actually is (I think because of the overscaled windows).
I just thought how Venturi's use of scale manipulation is exactly the opposite of the Disneyland use of scale manipulation, and it is ironic that an overemphesis in scale can produce a diminutive effect. I also want to mention that I first noticed Venturi's use of overscaled windows in his Chinatown (Philadelphia) Housing.
It would be beneficial to see the elevations and the model next to some other 3-D models of domestic architecture--2170i02--an interesting comparison between the Absecon house and the Heidi Weber Pavilion and the Plecnik Houses under a Common Roof, and perhaps even the Bye House (for real contrast).

Harbeson's The Study of Architectural Design
There are three short chapters on scale and proportion in Harbeson's The Study of Architectural Design...

domestic scale
Another issue of scale will be domestic scale and this will incorporate series of plans and the comparison among the plans. The scale comparison will also involve elevations (and perhaps perspectives as well). The Villa Rotunda will be the proto plan all the houses will be related to it.
The other issues addressed will be:
1. the extra/separate roof element to add scale to the house--Plecnik's Houses under a Common Roof, the Heidi Weber Pavilion, Krier's housing at La Villette.
2. raised box--Savoye, Wagner, Bye.
3. central space/radiating plan, big central space--Villa Rotunda, Kahn's Goldenberg House, Giurgola's Retreat House (compare Hurva), Venturi's Absecon House.
4. Scale play on the house elevations--breakdown analysis of the Absecon House, big 3-dimensional openings of Venturi's Weiss House, scale comparison with the horizontal windows at St. Peter's, Rome.
5. Campo Marzio domestic architecture?

[scale] ideas
...comparing some Campo Marzio plans with the tall building elevations; the reality of the tall buildings (in elevation) might better show the unreality of the Piranesi plans. ...make a point about perception and how architects should be seeing things. This idea also suggests comparing anything and eveything with more anything and everything.



Quondam © 2016.07.30