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Human scale

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.

Human scale means "of a scale comparable to a human being".

A number of characteristic physical quantities can be associated with the human body, the human mind, human societies, and the preservation of human life and well-being.

The term "human scale" is also used to refer to the Small Is Beautiful school of philospophy associated with Leopold Kohr, E. F. Schumacher, John Papworth and Kirkpatrick Sale, among others.[1]

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[edit] 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:

[edit] Human scale 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:

[edit] 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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Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index

Alternatives  –  Left History  –  Libraries & Archives  –  Social Change  – 


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