FWD: Scale
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 93 10:12 CDT
From: tsuchiya [at] athena.mit.edu (N John Tsuchiya)
Newsgroups: alt.architecture
Subject: "Scale" and Psychology
Date: 17 Sep 1993 22:35:07 GMT
Organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Distribution: world
Message-ID: <27de2r$hfh [at] senator-bedfellow.MIT.EDU>
NNTP-Posting-Host: m14s-010-4.mit.edu

        "Scale" and "proportion" are two vague concepts which many people
throw around without actually defining what they are talking about.  I feel
that they are two sides of the same thing.  "Scale" has to do with how
people perceive connections between two different sized objects.  Good scale
results in the two objects have a sense of being related.

        How can this be achieved?  According to perceptual psychology, one
manner that this can be achieved has been documented.  For most objects, the
human eye can perceive the grain or texture of the object.  As mentioned in
Christopher Alexander's _A_Pattern_Language_, if the size of the object is
between 5:1 and 10:1 of the size of the grain (i.e., about 1/2" for most
materials), then people can perceive a relationship between the grain and the
object itself.  That is, the object is perceived as being the next step in
an hierarchy of sizes, rather than a disconnected level in the hierarchy.

        This can be gradually extended to the entire building (or any object).
The next group of objects should be between 5:1 and 10:1 of the size of the
1/2" objects, etc., until the entire building is between 5:1 and 10:1 of the
next to last level of the heirarchy of scales.

        Interestingly enough, parking lots with less than 7 cars are perceived
to be "friendly" while anything larger to be an inhuman mass.  (Also from
Alexander).  Alexander also gives the example of how office workers prefer to
have in their immediate sight, 8 or less co-workers.  Another example is that
apartment buildings which are divided so that each hall has 6 or less rooms has
significantly less crime than where the halls are divided with more rooms per
hall (from Albert Mehrabian's _Public_Places_and_Private_Spaces_).

        A reason why this may be so is mentioned in an article by George Miller
(in the book, _Readings_in_Perception_, eds. Beardslee and somebody else).  The
article, titled "The Magical Number Seven:  Some Limits on Our Capacity to
Process Information," explains the concept of "Span of Attention."  This is the
limit to which a person can tell exactly the number of dots that are flashed
on a screen for 1/5 of a second.  It turns out that when there are 6 or less,
people can tell exactly how many there are, which is called "subitizing."  For
more than 6 dots, people must always estimate.

        Following from this, if a person can tell exactly the number of objects
(grains, cars, co-workers, or rooms), then they will feel that they have the
situation fully under control.  That is, they won't be overwhelmed with so many
objects that they cannot keep track of each of them, at least subconsciously.

        Perhaps this can lead to a "demistification" of the ideas of scale
and proportion.  Several hitches still exist though:

        In a building, how do you differentiate the different scaled parts
                without destroying the whole (how do people perceive different
                parts within a whole)?
        What role do other factors play in the perception of scale other than
                actual size (such as color)?

I suppose these are the next steps....

                                        John Tsuchiya

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