Prediction – if you can’t get a handle on scale and proportion, you are going to make for a bad architect (at least one that considers themselves a designer). One of the very most important skill sets a designer can have is their ability to visualize space and the things that occupy that space. This means having a good feeling when something is – or isn’t as is frequently the case – the right size. I think this is a skill that comes more naturally to some but even if it is something that you struggle with, there are all sorts of devices that have been developed to help designers determine how best to guide them in their creations … the Golden Section, the Modular, the Canons of Proportion, actually using a measuring tape … and on and on.
Scale and proportion can be hard skill set to acquire and I will concede that it takes time before designers can instinctually know if something is right or wrong. I saw a lot of evidence of whacked out scaling in the playhouse designs I received this year and by far, it was the thing that made a potentially great playhouse idea in to a design that made you scratch your head. More times than not, one of the things that can really help you know whether or not your project has scale issues is by using scale figures.
Architects and designers frequently use scale figures to help illustrate scale. One of the very first sketches I ever published on Life of an Architect was the section sketch of the master bathroom shower in my own house. If you don’t read drawings (back in June of 2010, I figured anybody who was reading this site probably didn’t read architectural drawings) this sketch might be hard to understand just what’s going on. It wasn’t until I added some scale figures that things started to make sense – and by “make sense”, I mean the drawing, not the shower … there isn’t anything about this shower that makes sense. The two people in that sketch are some of the architectural scale figures that I use all the time.
But I digress, we are talking about using scale figures to help convey a sense of scale and proportion and how this simple practice can make the difference between getting something right, and getting something wrong.
I hope you understand where I’m taking this … Use scale figures in your drawings and in your sketches!
But wait … there’s more!
Use scale figures that are actually scaled correctly!!!
Seems like a no-brainer to me, but – and this is a “Sir Mix-A-Lot” sized but – people either don’t know how big human beings are – or – they do know their designs are off, and they make the wink wink “necessary” revisions to scale their scale figures so that they are in scale with their designs.
Time for a quick lesson and some examples:
That is me standing on the roof of one of my projects a few years ago … the pained look on my face is there because I instinctively knew that this photo would one day be used to teach people a thing or two about scale figures … and I’m standing next to an 18 month old baby.
Did you know that the average height of an 18 month old male baby is 32″ tall? Based on the size of the children scale figures used in some of the entries I received, I am going to say that no, you didn’t know that the average height of an 18″ month old male baby is 32″. Human beings have been getting bigger and bigger so If you visit this site from the future, I’m sure the next bit of facts won’t still be true but as of 2015 they are pretty good.
|Birth||19.1″ to 20.1″||18’9″ to 19.8″|
|1 Years Old||30.5″ to 31.8″||29.9″ to 31.2″|
|2 years Old||33.0″ to 35.4″||33.2″ to 34.9″|
|3 Years Old||36.5″ to 38.6″||36.0″ to 28.1″|
|4 Years Old||39.2″ to 41.5″||38.6″ to 41″|
|5 Years Old||41.7″ to 46.9″||41.34″ to 46.7″|
These are simply the average sizes of children from birth through the first 5 years of life – so if you were 4 feet tall at birth, you are not the average (if you were 4 feet tall at birth I’m not sure what you are). I also chose this age span because this appeared to be the relative age of the children used as scale figures.
Okay. Now that we’ve got some parameters set, let me explain what I am doing: I went in to a few of the entries I received and I traced out some of the scale figures used in presentation of the designs. While there were dozens of examples to choose from, I don’t really want to dog-pile*¹ the good people who took the time to actually design and submit a playhouse, I thought it would still be a good idea to show how their design might have suffered through the poor use of scale and scale figures.
Using the same picture of me and an 18 month old baby, I inserted a few of the scale figures that were used in various playhouse design entries. I chose these particular ones because (believe it or not) they were used in multiple entries
Figure A: That’s me – Bob Borson. I am 6′-1″, maybe a bit taller when I stand up straight but hunching over a drafting board for years has taken its toll.
Figure B: some random child walking … looks a bit like a stroll to me, which might infer some level of confidence and familiarity with walking. I estimated that this child is approximately 37″ tall (or 5″ taller than our 18 month old baby). This would make this child around 3 years old.
Figure C: This is “The Dancing Child” or at least I assume it’s child. Measuring in at 24″ when standing on its tippy-toes, I think this child might actually be around 21″ tall. For the record, my daughter Kate was 21″ tall at the moment of her birth and let me tell you, she was not capable of dancing.
Figure D: Our 18 month old baby. He’s cute isn’t he? At 32″ tall, he is perfectly average and still in diapers … which is okay. In the United States, most kids aren’t completely potty trained until they are almost three. If this were the 1950’s, he would probably be transitioning out of those diapers.
Figure E: Child with Mommy. Measuring around 30″ tall, this would make this kid 1 years old … which means they wouldn’t be walking like this with Mommy. You can also see that our example baby is in a completely different weight class, another example that there is a scale issue at work here (and not a “McDonald’s issue)
Figure F: The Mommy. Hmmmm, this mommy is around 52″ tall – or 4′-4″ for the inchly challenged – and while there are fully grown people out there that reach their maximum height without clearing 5 feet, this is still an undersized adult scale figure. For reference, (and because there are a lot of variables out there) the average height of an Angelo woman from the United States is 5′-5″ tall.
Before you go crazy on me for not considering that the different races and nationalities are different sizes than the examples I have given, please keep a few things in mind:
- I traced and rendered the scale figures used above, their race and nationality was clear enough to see in the original
- The scale figures were used for a competition where the core demographic matches the examples I list
- The examples I used are extreme regardless of the original designers race and nationality – and unless it’s part of the programming, I wouldn’t design to the extreme end of the scale.
Architectural scale figures play a fairly large role in allowing people to imprint scale on to a conceptual design – particularly with modern design. Whenever you have items that are intrinsically different in scale than the norm (like 10′ tall doors), people will automatically re-proportion the entire project and adjust the scale to some feature that makes sense to them … like a door. By adding some known references to the presentation material, like scale figures, you are able to help set the proper scale and not have the people who are evaluating your work make mental adjustments.
Of course, this only works when you scale your scale figures properly.
When I first started working on this website, I drew the scale figures you see above and scanned them all in so that I would have access to them digitally. They are all 5′-8″ tall and I literally just drop them in to my sketch designs whenever I need to set the scale of the image.
Make the use of scale figures your friend – it could actually make the difference between getting something right and getting something eerily wrong.