Size and scale
In the opening remarks of his essay for the ‘Idea asModel’ exhibition catalogue, Christian Hubert states that‘size and scale are not to be confused’, and yet they sofrequently are (Pommer, R., Frampton, K. and Kolbowski,S. (eds), Idea as Model, Institute for Architecture andUrban Studies, catalogue 3, New York: Rizzoli, 1981,p.17). Speciﬁcally, size is directly linked to measurementand is therefore quantitative in nature, whereas bycontrast scale is relative – i.e. it refers to a componentbeing relationally smaller or bigger than anothercomponent – and, as a result, is qualitative. However,the distinction is not quite so straightforward as we needmeasurements in order to be able to set up a physicalscale for a model, and as a consequence most models arebuilt to a recognized conventional scale. So while a modelwill nearly always be built at a different and much smallerscale than the real building, the different elements of themodel all have the same scale-relationship to each other.
Why are architectural models typically made at suchsmall scales? The most obvious explanations are linked totime, effort and cost. Models at a reduced scale are muchfaster to make and enable problems with constructionsequences and materials to be anticipated. The effort inmaking a model allows the designer to evaluate creativeideas and develop the design accordingly. To this end,the type of model required at various stages of the designprocess usually outlines the amount of effort required, sincea basic massing model will require less investment than adetailed sectional model of interior spaces. Clearly, the costof even the most ostentatious model is considerably lessthan that of constructing a real building and it allows thedesign to be ‘interrogated’, avoiding the possibility of thebuilding being constructed with design ﬂaws. However,beyond these rather evident reasons there is anothercentral factor in the role of models that is connected tothe discipline itself. This relates to the design-developmentprocess, and to the fact that ideas are much easier toenhance and edit when they are smaller and simpler thanthe real thing. The preliminary quality of ideas manifestin physical models demands dexterity on behalf of thedesigner, as they are dynamic tools of both exploration andcommunication at all stages of development.
Understanding scale is essential to be able to producea correctly sized model for your needs. Scale should bedetermined by the nature of what needs to be conveyed,for example emphasis on a speciﬁc structural detail wouldbe shown at a fairly large scale such as 1:20 whereas anentire site plan would be smaller such as 1:500. Physicalconstraints may be a deciding factor if the model isintended for display in a speciﬁc area. Whatever the casemay be, without a solid understanding of scale you can’taccurately advance your model beyond conceptual ideas.
Actual size 1:1Smaller than reality 1:2Larger than reality 2:1
‘1:2 scale’ refers to the size of one unit on the model thatis half of the full size proposal. For example if a buildingis 5 metres (16 ft 4 in) tall in reality, at 1:2 scale it wouldbe reduced to 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) tall.A sample of this 1:2 reduction equation would be: 5m ÷ 2= 2.5m (16 ft 4 in ÷ 2 = 8 ft 2 in)
‘2:1 scale’ refers to larger than planned or reality scale.For example if a structural component is 30cm
in)wide in reality a 2:1 scaled version would measure 60cm
in) wide.A sample of this 2:1 increasing equation would be: 30cmx 2 = 60cm
Useful 1:1 size references
Door height: 2 metres high (6.6ft)Main street light height: 7.6 metres high (25ft)Residential street light height: 4.5 metres high (15ft)