Human scale  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Human scale is the set of physical qualities, and quantities of information, characterizing the human body, its motor, sensory, or mental capabilities, and human social institutions.

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Science vs. human scale

Many of the objects of scientific interest in the universe are much larger than human scale (stars, galaxies) or much smaller than human scale (molecules, atoms, subatomic particles).

Similarly, many time periods studied in science involve time scales much greater than human timescales (geological and cosmological time scales) or much shorter than human timescales (atomic and subatomic events).

Mathematicians and scientists use very large and small numbers to describe physical quantities, and have created even larger and smaller numbers for theoretical purposes.

Human scale measurements, however, are more in the order of:

In architecture

Humans interact with their environments based on their physical dimensions, capabilities and limits. The field of anthropometrics (human measurement) has unanswered questions, but it's still true that human physical characteristics are fairly predictable and objectively measurable. Buildings scaled to human physical capabilities have steps, doorways, railings, work surfaces, seating, shelves, fixtures, walking distances, and other features that fit well to the average person.

Humans also interact with their environments based on their sensory capabilities. The fields of human perception systems, like perceptual psychology and cognitive psychology, are not exact sciences, because human information processing is not a purely physical act, and because perception is affected by cultural factors, personal preferences, experiences, and expectations. So human scale in architecture can also describe buildings with sightlines, acoustic properties, task lighting, ambient lighting, and spatial grammar that fit well with human senses. However, one important caveat is that human perceptions are always going to be less predictable and less measurable than physical dimensions.

Human scale in architecture is deliberately violated:

  • for monumental effect. Buildings, statues, and memorials are constructed in a scale larger than life as a social/cultural signal that the subject matter is also larger than life. The extreme example is the Rodina (Motherland) statue in Volgograd (Stalingrad).
  • to serve automotive scale. Commercial buildings that are designed to be legible from roadways assume a radically different shape. The human eye can distinguish about 3 objects or features per second. A pedestrian steadily walking along a 100-foot (30-meter) length of department store can perceive about 68 features; a driver passing the same frontage at 30 mph (13 m/s or 44 ft/s) can perceive about six or seven features. Auto-scale buildings tend to be smooth and shallow, readable at a glance, simplified, presented outward, and with signage with bigger letters and fewer words. This urban form is traceable back to the innovations of developer A. W. Ross along Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1920.

Common sense and human scale

"Common sense" ideas tend to relate to events within human experience, and thus commenurate with these scales. There is thus no commonsense intuition of, for example, interstellar distances or speeds approaching the speed of light.

Weights and measures tend to reflect human scale, and many older systems of measurement featured units based directly on the dimensions of the body. The metric system, which is based on other more reproducible physical quantities, still attempts to keep its base units within the range of human experience. Other systems, such as Planck units are useful for theoretical purposes, but are not useful for everyday purposes.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Human scale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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