V I K T O R   M A S H I N S K Y

"A person is the measure of all things - both real in
their existence and unreal in their nonexistence' "

Protagor from Abdera, V century B.C

Scale - the correlation between the size of a person and that of an architectural object - is one of the least studied characteristics of buildings, their ensembles and the urban environment altogether. At the same time, it is one of the most powerful characteristics of architecture, since a person does not only measure architecture through himself, but also measure himself through architecture, and this impacts his mood, self-concept, and model of behavior. A precise, but purely practical possession of scale characteristics existed in the times of historical architectural schools but was lost in the beginning of the 20th century when the presence of these schools died down, as a result of which modern architecture significantly lost human scale. The recreation of this quality today is impossible in the absence of architectural schools and therefore absence of practical skills. It is necessary to create a scale theory and to use it practically.


The scale of a building or an environment as a whole is determined by with the correlation of physical size of a person and various elements of buildings or an environment, which serve as that which I call, scale modules. These are module 1 (M-1) - the size of the volume of a building or expanse; module 2 (M-2) - the size of fragments of volume or space; module 3 (M-3) - the size of their details. The module of details (M-3), especially size which is relatively stable and through experience is known to people (above all - doors and windows), serves as a measure of scale of separate buildings, but also impacts the scale of the entire environment. The function of the module of fragments (M-2) is analogous, in particular, architectural order, which is amazingly precisely related to the person. The main measure of the scale of environment - is the module of the entire volume of a building or expanse (M-1). (Ill.1)
It is important that person simultaneously perceives all modules. These modules were that, using musical terms, the keyboard, on which the masters of architecture played various variations: consonances, where all modules were of one character (either large, or small) or dissonances, where their character was diverse, one-voiced, where but one module sounded, and the rest were turned off, or multi-voiced, where several different modules sounded at once.
Consonances, the harmonic combinations of scale modules, are the most simple. All details and fragments (M-3 and M-2) are large or small. For example, all of the details and fragments of the Parthenon are large - from M-3 - the height of the stairs (27 cm) and portal (6 m) to M-2 - the height of the architectural order (13.7 m). Its volume (M-1) - is a block significant in size which is set up on the Acropolis cliff in an enormous expanse of (M-1) sky, against the background of which it is always seen. Consequently, the scales of the building and environment are great. Contrarily, the small scale modules M-3 and M-2 (height of portal - 2 m, architectural order - 4.5 m) and the small volume (M-1) of the Tempietto Chapel of Barmante itself, which is placed in a tight space of the San Pietro monastery's courtyard, determine the small scale of the building and its environment. (Ill.2.1)
The professional method of dissonanced, dramatic combinations of modules, is more complex. In the ancient Roman temple complex in Baalbek there are large dimensions of architectural order (M-2) with the height of 24.1 m, which is almost 2 times larger than the typical one, the stones of the walls (M-3) are monstrous, which come to 19x3, 6x4 meters, the enormous volume of the temples themselves (M-1), standing on podiums against the background of a cosmic expanse of high mountains (M-1). And at the same time the module of details (M-3), directly fixates the size of the person - the height of the stairs is even smaller than usual - 11cm, which precisely determines the place of the person in this system, here feeling himself a nonentity, an ant.
Contrarily, there is the scale organization of ancient residential houses, for which it is characteristic to combine the normal sized detail module (M-3) - doors, windows, steps, etc with the small M-2 - architectural order and M-1 - size of the building itself and the expanse of the streets (their width-from 3 to 7.5 m). Here, the role of architectural order is great with a small height of 3-5 m, having an intercolumnar (2-3m) which is characteristic for the architectural order of a large one. As a result, despite the astonishing coziness of this environment, in it exists a typically ancient Greek motif of the importance of a person.
A large building is countered with the minuteness of the person in a Gothic cathedral, where the enormous sizes of volume (M-1), towers (M-2), such details (M-3), like the "Rose" window and main portal, combine with the normal sized steps and doors (M-3). This strengthens the dramatic effect of the transition from the outside to the huge indoor expanse in all situations. With that, the perspective portal brilliantly plays the same role of linking large and small scales, as does architectural order in an ancient residential house. (Ill.2.2) However, the dissonanced combinations of modules (M-2 and M-3) have positive significance only to a certain degree of severance between their sizes. In the transition across this boundary a provocative effect of psychological discomfort appears which I call the "scale trap effect". Such is the crown of F. Johnson's AT&T skyscraper, worked out in the form of a back of a "Chippendale" style armchair enlarged a hundred times. Another example of this effect is the combination of one-type, large and small windows of some postmodern residential houses. This effect is fulfilled with professional splendor and deliberately calculated for the shocking "scale trap effect" extremely characteristic for the postmodern style. (Ill.2.3)
Consonanced and dissonanced correlations are also possible with the correlation of two M-1 modules - between volumes and expanses. Consonanced and harmonic are the correlations between the large volume of the San-Pietro Cathedral in Rome and the square in front of it, between the small volume of the Pazzi Chapel and its surrounding expanse of the monastery courtyard. (Ill.3.1) Dissonanced and dramatic are the correlations between the enormous volume of the gothic cathedral and the tight expanse of the square in which it is placed, between Trojan's column and the small square of the Trojan forum, between the enormous expanse of the plain and the small volume of the roadside chapel lost within it. In one case the visual angle is very large, in the other, very small.2 (Ill.3.2) Evidently, consonance correlations of volumes and expanses lay within the limits of a certain range of visual angles of volume from boundaries of expanse. For ancient Greek, Renaissance, and Classicist architecture, consonanced and harmonic correlations between volume and expanse are characteristic, for ancient Egyptian, ancient Roman, gothic, and Baroque architecture - dissonanced and dramatic correlations. This effect is strengthened in Baroque architecture by the tendency of interpenetration of volume and expanse recognized by Brinkman (Ill.3).
The formation of a large or small scale building or environment is influenced by, aside from the size of scale modules, whether they are built as "large" or as "small" objects which is done with the help of proportions and detail work. An object which is built as a "small" object forms a larger scale of a building or environment than an object of the same size but built as a "large object". The solidity of scale criterions, "large" and "small" is extremely important for the solidity of the environment. One of the most unpleasant effects of the "scale trap" is called upon by the mixture of representations of "small" and "large". It appears either in the case when the volumes or expanses, having identical form, proportion, or level of detailing, significantly clash with each other in physical size or when next to a volume or expanse worked out with the help of proportioning, forms and level of detail work as if it were "large", appears a volume or expanse of the same physical size, but worked out as if it were "small". (Ill.4)
Such are the several possibilities for consonance or dissonanced correlations between scale modules, as well as criterions of "large" or "small".
Methods of turning on or off of one or another module are not less promising. Here, it is possible to formulate several rules:
1. In order for a scale module to actively work it must be clearly sketched. This goes for details (M-3), fragments (M-2), and the volume of a building and expanse (M-1).
2. In order for the scale module to fulfill its function, it must be countered with a background (detail (M-3) - with a wall, on which it is places, fragment (M-2) - with the building as a whole, building or expanse (M-1) - with the surrounding environment).
3. The more active exposition of one or another module determines its leading role in correlation with a person and therefore, the leading role of the scale of the building or environment.
These rules can be illustrated with a number of typical situations.
In the case of even exposition of all modules, the scale of the environment is worked out together with M-1, as well as M-2 and M-3. From distant points, the M-1 module of volume and expanse is perceived the best. It chiefly determines the scale of the environment. In approaching the building, the boundaries of its volume and expanse go outside of the bounds of the visual angle. The M-1 module stops working. The scale of the environment, determined already by the M-2 and M-3 modules, is lowered. Upon approaching further, the boundaries of fragments also go beyond the bounds of the visual angle. The scale of the environment, determined only by the smallest physical module - the detail module (M-3), is lowered even more.
In the case that the boundaries of the volume of the building or expanse are not determined, the M-1 module is initially turned off. The scale of the environment, determined only by the M-2 and M-3 modules, is relatively small. The softened sound, especially the turning off of M-3, increases the scale of the building and the environment, determined in this case only by M-2 and M-1. The simplest way this is accomplished through the use of one type details, above all - windows, owing to the fact that one type do not counter with the background, therefore the module does not play a role. The details, in this case, visual combine into a block, which plays the role of the fragment (M-2). The softened sound, and especially the turning off of M-2, further increases the scale of the environment, which is determined only by the volume module (M-1). This can also be accomplished through the repetition of details, in part, windows, but within the bounds of the entire building, which becomes a single block. The same effect is accomplished through the repetition of fragments, in part, of the architectural order, which are united into a block of the entire building. Such is the principle of ancient Greek peripter and the key to the monumentality of these relatively small structures. But aside from M-3 and M-2, one-type volumes (M-1) could also combine into blocks, now "superblocks", which form the hypertrophic scale of the environment. (Ill.5.1, 5.2,.5.3)
The described mechanisms are universal enough. Therefore, they can be used not only with the exteriors, but also the interiors of buildings.


First of all, it is important to reveal not the individual distinctions, but the general principles of scale organization of the urban environment in different historic epochs. There was always an environment of a larger scale - of public, palace, religious buildings and of smaller scale - residential.
The large scale of the former was accomplished firstly through the active exposition of the volume (M-1) of the building, whether it be a temple of an ancient Greek agora or ancient Roman forum, a cathedral or a palace. The relatively large expanses (M-1) of squares and avenues, played an important role in the formation of the large scale, as well. The relatively large physical sizes of fragments (M-2) before all - architectural order, and the details (M-3) - portals, windows, dcor, determined the large scale of the buildings themselves. With that, the details (M-3) and fragments (M-2) were often united into a large block. Such are the mentioned peripters of temples, colonnade of agoras, forums, of the main streets of Palmir, the eastern faade of the Louvre and the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia, numbers of abutments and archbuttresses of gothic cathedrals, arcades of the Colleseum and Place des Vosges, blocks of one-type windows - the main elements of Renaissance palazzo architecture, etc.
The small scale of the residential environment was attained through the turning off of volume (M-1) owing to perimetral development, the small size of the M-1 expanses of streets, narrow and often crooked (which reduced the visual size even more), the small size of fragments (M-2) and such details (M-3), like entrances and windows of ordinary houses, which never united in large blocks.
In this system there were peculiarities, for example, a larger scale of the residential environment of large towns, which reached more regular planning and the large physical sizes themselves of streets, houses, their fragments, among which is architectural order. (The size of the architectural order in Classical St. Petersburg, Russia in the first half of the 19th century was almost 8-10 m everywhere, which along with straight avenues gave the entire city a more official character. Contrarily, in Moscow the size of the architectural order in residential mansions was 4 - 5 m., which along with the picturesque planning of streets gave the residential environment qualities of a specific coziness). Despite the fact that the difference between the scale of the environment and volume (M-1) of public buildings themselves on the one hand, and the scale of the residential environment and buildings on the other was significantly large (for example, the height of the architectural order of the main Isaac cathedral in St. Petersburg is 15 m), the environment as a whole was united and proportional with the people. (Ill. 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5)
Of course, all ideas of the "large" and "small" scale of buildings and environment are significantly historic. Along with the environment, its scale changed as well. As a rule - it rose. Sometimes, in new generations of larger buildings, they were worked out as "large" or "very large" ones. In the case that the difference in scale between the old and the new was not large, the formed criterions of "large" and "small" did not change. But if, as it happened at sharp turns in the history of architecture, the gap in sizes was significant, the criterions of "small" and "large" were broken. For example, this occurred abroad in the 19th and 20th centuries when European towns began developing in fractionally decorated 6-7-8 story apartment houses, and American ones - in skyscrapers. Such breaching of criterion remained until the new environment would take up the old one. But even more abrupt breaching of criterion occurred when new, significantly larger buildings were worked out as "small" ones. At this point the "scale trap effect" would appear. The effect had a place when the building of rectangular office buildings, hotels, and residential houses of lapidary form appeared in fractionally detailed environments in European towns, and when the post war generation of American skyscrapers acquired forms of primitive prisms towering among terraced skyscrapers in the first half of the century. But as is typical with a hypertrophied scale of environment (M-1), the scale of the modern buildings (M-1) themselves is small, because of the small sizes of the windows and doors - i.e module M-3 These buildings are enormous, but alas - not majestic. (Ill.7.3)
The most destructive is the "scale trap effect" in regards to the precious historic environment. For example, it is in this way that the primitive rectangle of the "Man-Monparnass" skyscraper, erected in the center of Paris brought an irreparable detriment to its delicately harmonized environment, whose tallest buildings were detailed as "very large" structures. In particular, such is the Eiffel Tower whose unusual forms at one point called upon protest from its contemporaries, but which despite its large size, owing to its sharp silhouette and delicate structure did not destroy the scale system of the city. Eiffel understood the problem of scale very well. (Ill.7.2)
The restoration of the professional skill of working with scale characteristics as well as with proportions was a great concern for one of its main "destroyers" - Le Corbusier. This skill is especially needed in the inevitable intrusion into an historic environment. Apparently, it is necessary to work out a number of methods for preserving its visual, and among them, scale characteristics.


Here, above all, it is important that the scale of the historic town environment is small in comparison with the modern one while the buildings themselves are individual and do not combine into "superblocks". Volumes and expanses are also small. For the main part of the historic environment it is characteristic, as we have seen, for there to be "perimetral" development, which turns off M-1. Owing to the abundance of fragments and details, they do not unite into large blocks. In this way, the scale of the environment is determined by modules M-2 and M-3. But since the details themselves, before all doors and windows, were typically larger than current ones, the scale of historic buildings can be larger than that of modern ones. (Ill.7.3)
How should we work with the historic environment? Before all, it is necessary to preserve within it the criterion "small" and "large". Therefore new, typically larger buildings must be designed in a way that their large size is not visually perceived. The easiest way to achieve this is to give a building a height which does not exceed the height of the historic development. In the case that the site is small and it is necessary to go for an increase in the height of the new building and therefore a change in the silhouette of the historic development, then this new building must be solved at the expense of appropriate forms, proportions, and detailing as a "very large" building.
What concerns the use of the instrument of scale modules, here specific methods are decided by the character of the new building which is being included into the historic environment, by its size and social significance. This task is considerably simple when the new building is close in size to the existing ones and its social significance is relatively low, which is typical for the current practice of inclusion of new residential houses into the historic environment. Here it is necessary to make sure that "superblocks" of similar houses do not appear, the M-1 module would be turned off, through its integration into the front of a perimetral development, and the fragments and details (M-2 and M-3) at the expense of their individualizations would not combine into blocks, as well. Amazingly, practical experience yields countless examples of the destruction of these simple and apparent rules. Sadly, revealed here is the syndrome of type-design which is characteristic to modern architecture despite that fact that these buildings are almost always designed and built individually. (Ill.8.1,8.2,8.3)
In the case that the building being included into the historic environment plays an important social role, but is small in size, it is possible to use the following scale methods which are traditional for historic development in order to increase their significance:
- An island location with the goal of exposing the volume (M-1) of the building;
- The use of fragments and details (M-2 and M-3) of larger size than that of the surrounding development;
- Their combination of fragments and details into blocks, as it was done in historic epochs.
The problem of scale organization in large buildings which are being included into an historic environment is more complex. When such a building does not play an outstanding role, not only should its volume (M-1) be turned off, but this volume should also be shattered into distinguishable fragments which are close in size to the houses within the surrounding historic development. At the very least it is important not to allow for the combination of fragments and details (M-2 and M-3) into large blocks. In modern architecture there are both examples of correct and incorrect scale organization of such buildings (Ill.8)3
But of course, the hardest task is to correctly include a large building which plays an outstanding social role into a fractionalized historic environment. Here it is necessary to avoid exposing the volume of the building since this method visually destroys the precious historic environment, and to fractionalize the building since this method lowers its social significance. Architecture of the 80's, in particular design for the historic environment of Paris, illustrated both of these erroneous methods. The method of exposing volume was demonstrated by a number of projects designed for the Bastille Theater competition. The second method - the visual destruction of the new building, is demonstrated by Centre Pompidou which is dematerialized and lacks such an important element for a public building as an entrance, and demonstrated as well by Centre L'Isle and the new Louvre complex which are hidden underground. (Ill.8.4)
A more productive method for a new, large public building is one which I would call the "double façade method", when such a building has an interior courtyard where its main entrance is located. For the exterior faade the mentioned methods of the fractionalization of a building in an historic environment are used. On the contrary, a very large scale is used for an interior courtyard, which does not visually affect an historic environment. This large scale is accomplished by the lapidary character of the entire expanse of the courtyard (M-1), large size of fragments (M-2), in particular by the large architectural order which should be united through the entire perimeter of the compact courtyard into a singe block, as well as by the very large details M-3, in particular important ones such as an entrance to a building. Moreover, a sudden transition from the small scale of an exterior to a very large interior scale is intensified by a large visual angle of perception, and can create a powerful effect of a very important building. (Ill.8.5)

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Of course, all of what is described above is but the first step on the path towards conscious possession of the instrument of scale characteristics, which could help the modern architect come closer to the level of the brilliant empiric practice of the great architectural schools of the past.


1 The mentioned topics were examined by the author in the following published documents:
- "The Scale of an Environment and Psychological Comfort", Mosproektovets, Vol. 20, pgs. 3-4, Vol. 22, pgs. 2-4, Vol. 25, pgs.3-4, 1979. (USSR)
- "The Instrument of Scale Modules", Construction and Architecture of Leningrad, Vol. 1, pgs 26-29, 1981. (USSR)
-"The Scale of the Urban Environment". Architecture of the USSR, Vol. 5, pgs. 76-80, 1986. (USSR)
2 The Trojan column standing in the open expanse of its forum's ruins does not make a great impression. The author of the Trojan forum could have put the column in the center of the main square of the forum as Bernini placed the Egyptian obelisk in the huge space of the St. Peter's Square in Rome where this large obelisk appears as an insignificant detail. But the brilliant author of the forum placed the column on the small square and it without a doubt was astounding.
3 A paradoxical, yet effective method of incorporating a large building into an historic environment is covering it entirely with glass which reflects the surrounding development and as a result, makes the new building identical to its surroundings.

Copyright:  Viktor Mashinsky. No parts of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the author
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