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In architecture, “scale” is the overall size of an object or building compared to the size of a human being, or other objects in its surroundings. Proportion is similar to scale, but instead of comparing the overall sizes of two objects, you’re comparing the relationships between parts of one object or building. For example, if the legs of a table are too short and it looks unbalanced, that is a  problem of proportion. But if a small table is placed in a room much too large for it, making it look even smaller than it is, that is a scale problem. In architecture, proportion and scale are the way we perceive those relationships as they apply to various objects and spaces that come together to make a building. Elements on a facade like columns or windows can be arranged in a regular pattern not unlike the beats of a drum in music. Thus architecture has been called “frozen music.” If windows are exactly five feet apart along a facade and suddenly one is only four feet from the next one, the resulting unpleasant appearance is the 

Scarpa-Frozen music-Querini

same as a discordant sound in music. An excellent example of


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 The Greeks also invented

the “Golden Section” which is a rectangle

of perfect proportions formed by taking the diagonal

of a square and rotating it down to form the base of the

golden section rectangle. The elevation that I designed for

the Sustainable Community Center is composed of elements

of a perfect square that forms an imaginary vertical line defining the edges of two windows. Note the  traces of the arc coming down from the upper right diagonal of that square to form a curved edge to the building.

“frozen music” is the Querini Stampalia by Carlo Scarpi in Venice. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, Italian architect, Andrea Palladio became a master of Vitruvius’ ten books, first written in the 1st century B.C.E. and reproduced in 1486. Palladio was so taken with the rules of scale and proportion, he expanded on the idea and published his own Four Books of Architecture that became a sort of pattern book for architects to copy all over the world. Palladio designed the Villa la Rotonda in 1550.  In his designs, he used the ratios of 3:4, 4:4, and 4:6, which are apparently those found in musical harmony. 

Sustainable Community Center.jpg
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The outdoor

classroom at the

Shore School in Beverly,

MA is an exercise in scale and

proportion. My friend John Knox and

I scaled down the elements in the  space

to fit little children with low stone sitting walls,

smaller benches, and narrow pathways to a variety of adventurous places. There are planting beds, a “junk store” surrounded by little tree trunk workbenches for building things and a round stone table where classes can be held.

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