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understanding scale, proportion, DIY Like an Architect

Architecture class at ArtCenter’s Saturday High: week three. We are working on understanding scale and proportion. First two sessions were devoted to initial brainstorming steps of DIY Like an Architect: 11-step method. Today my creative teens are sharing the insights — building presentation skills is one of the objectives.

Finding a key to all of the students individually is my goal. I want to make sure that each one takes away something very personal; I am here to challenge and support them as they probe and ask provocative questions.

Last week my creative teens worked on defining a parti and on diagramming it (steps 3,4 & 5). Today we are looking at work in progress. I push them to own it. Sam’s parti is FLOW; how does she expect to manifest it? The answer: “No barriers.” Tyler’s is about CONTRAST. He carefully thought it through. Ian’s project is about facing the VIEW. His three-dimensional representation of the parti is clear — he is focusing attention on the lake adjacent to the site. Mack’s FAMILY is interpreted with a giant hearth.

The quote by Louis Kahn: “Architecture is the thoughtful making of space,” sums up today’s discussion. In addition, I need to introduce the following vocabulary:

space – the three-dimensional field in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. It has a defined shape and a sense of boundary.

proportion – harmonious relationship of one part to another or to the whole with respect to magnitude, quantity, or degree.

scale – a certain proportional size, extent, or degree usually judged in relation to some standard or point of reference.

human scale – relative to dimensions of the human body.

I show my creative teens Salk Institute, Kimbell Art Museum and Yale University Art Gallery.

They gather around me, and it feels like I am performing a religious rite, revealing something sacred, tremendously important. I want to impart my sense of awe and reverence. This is the heart and soul of architecture, and I want them to get infected with my enthusiasm.

If we were to ask Louis Kahn how to develop a design concept, what would he say?

He might talk about letting the building itself express what it wants to be. The “act of making” is Kahn’s way of establishing the building’s true nature. Kahn would postulate that it is his moral imperative to expose methods of construction, the structure. Convinced that carefully designed joints are the ornament, he would insist that there is no need for further embellishment.

Understanding scale and proportion facilitates “thoughtful making of space.” In preparation for today, I put together a little model to present the concept. There are two foamcore figures inside of a space. One is almost as tall as the height of the walls, while another is quite tiny. Then there is a removable ceiling plane — flat and pyramidal.

I encourage Sam, who is standing right next to me, to squint her eyes and get this little thing right in front of her face. I complete the space with the flat roof first and entice her to imagine herself as the big person inside. She says that it feels “claustrophobic.” As a little guy, it feels “overwhelming.” I switch the overhead plane to a pyramid, and immediately the perception of the space changes — a cell turns into a room.

While engaged in the process of developing a design concept, my creative teens have to go back and forth keeping scale and proportion in mind.

Which brings us to step 6 (Program) and 7 (Human Scale). I ask the students to make an inventory of all of their requirements. This is the time to zero in on the objectives and to set up a framework that will encompass all of the components. They need to return to IDEAL ROOM mind map and organize it.

understanding scale, proportion, DIY Like an Architect

understanding scale & proportion

Last thing, they are to make a scaled model of themselves at ¼” = 1’0’ with the help of architectural scale. Once again, we’ve covered a lot. We’ll dig deeper next week.


  • August 24, 2015

    I love how you use a model to make understanding scale and proportion a lot easier.

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