Sense of Scale and the Digital Age of Architecture


I am in my mid twenties and its not as if I don't use the computer. However, I find that drawing and modeling in a virtual environment as opposed to drawing by hand has really hindered my perception and understanding of architectural scale. As an architect, I feel it is crucial to understand scale. With all of these columbia grads graduating with a command of digital media and grasshopper, the "best architecture school," has the potential of producing a future generation of architects without any understanding of scale... What is your take on the issue of the relationship of digital media and architectural scale?

Nov 2, 13 11:30 pm

How are you defining scale here?

Also, why Columbia? I've never heard it referred to as the "best" by anyone before, though certianly as one of them. Would we still be having this discussion about a more pragmatic school?

Nov 3, 13 2:12 am

BulgarBlogger, if you're having a problem with a perception and understanding of architectural scale, I don't think digital media is to blame.

When I was in school, like 35 years ago, whenever I wasn't sure whether what I was drawing was too big or too small, I would quickly draw a plan of my drawing table (3'x6') next to the plan I was drawing. I could thus more easily gauge my planning decisions via comparison with a dimension I knew intimately. I can still quickly do the same type of scale comparison via digital media, although now far more enhanced.

This is a plan of the room I'm presently working in:


Here's the room in 3D:


Here's the room within the Villa Rotunda (which is within the plan I'm currently working on:


Here's more of the drawing I'm currently working on:


Here's the full extent of the drawing:


In many ways, architectural scale is a comparative study, and digital media has made 1::1 comparison easy.

Nov 3, 13 10:37 am

Let me clarify:

Can you easily go from offsetting a line or a wall in a software a certain distance to knowing more or less how to draw by hand in 1/4" scale? My argument is that the more you are used to getting precise measurements in various softwares, the less your rely on your intuition on how big or something small is. When you zoom in really close to an object in virtual space, you have no idea how big or small the thing you are looking at really is unless you measure it. Similarly, if you are drawing a quick sketch of an elevation or section by hand and you are relying on your intuition to hit the ball park of of 10' ceilings, the thickness of floor slabs, and/or the proportions of window mullions and other architectural features, I contend that those dimensional qualities would be greatly distorted if someone is used to getting them by inputting values in the computer...

I think that the more we as architects rely on technology to doing our work, the less we understand the physical scale of what we are making. We are so fascinated by what we see on the screen that we fool ourselves into believing certain things about the spaces we create. Understanding of structure for example is one area of design architects are, in my opinion, becoming ever less familiar with... You create a beautiful rendering for example of a column free atrium and later discover: " oops- the 18mm camera lens I used to fool my client into thinking the space is bigger than it is, was so effective that I fooled myself into believing I can span a beam that far...the same is true with regard to parametric design... You create these elaborate skins and building envelopes and you have no idea what their proportions actually are until you have to create a really expensive mock up because you are just stuck in what you see in virtual space...

Finally, I meant that Columbia is one of the best, not the best. I only brought that up because I can't stand parametric design and what its doing to architectural design in terms of aesthetics. I think there are great advantages to knowing parametric design, but for the most part, I think it facilitates an ongoing fad of surface and skin studies that is just so boring in terms of connecting with the everyday lives of people... For me good architecture relates to how people use space and how it affects people's everyday lives rather than how its particular aesthetics can potentially "inspire." I  used to naively believe in my first and second year of architecture school that designing a "cool looking" facade was going to change the world. Then, the more I read and the more I saw, I became convinced that what is truly inspiring  wasn't the formal aesthetics or form of my physical surroundings (some of which I didn't even see because the skyscrapers around me do not change in form until their higher elevations), but rather it is how my experiences and activities are tied together by the built environment. 

Nov 3, 13 7:02 pm

no matter what tools you're using, be it a pencil, a mayline, or a mouse, your brain is still the most powerful tool you should be relying on.  if you are unable to understand scale in autocad without using the distance button, use the distance button until you can train yourself to figure it out.  it is my opinion, your design should start in your brain anyway, including the scale and proportions and such, and you're just using those tools as way to communicate what's in your brain.

Nov 3, 13 7:29 pm

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