Anders Brix, architect maa mdd professor


Log of laboratory activities and findings

Out of scale

Scale, as the notion is used in architecture and design, denotes the relation between the size of something in question when compared to the size of the human body. Scale is very different to proportion, which means the relation of sizes and measures when compared to each other. Proportions can be e.g. 'one-to-three', 'two-to-five', or 'the golden section'. Proportions are relative, and thus independent of scale. Scale, on the other hand, is absolute.

Our sense of scale is fundamental to the way we relate to environments. We take measure of everything by comparing it to our bodies. When, occasionally, we find ourselves in environments deprived of any features relating to the size of the human body, it evokes unusual feelings. One of these could very well be fear (awe perhaps an other).

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of thrill, and in creating spooky situations without resorting to darkness, thunder, and similar clichés. In his movie "North by Northwest" (1959), the hero (Cary Grant) is called to a strange meeting in the middle of vast open plains. Sensing that the set-up could be a trap, yet relaxed by the fact that no one can sneak in on him unseen, he soon finds himself exposed and an easy target on the endless prairie.

The attacker is equipped to move swiftly in this terrain; dressed according to scale, one might say. Grant, on the contrary, is chased here and there by the attacking airplane. Just as he is about to lose it, he finds shelter in a cornfield. The plants are just his height, allowing him to duck and move around unseen. Saved by scale.