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Scale – Why is the scale of things important? thumb

Scale – Why is the scale of things important?

I’m a tutor on OCA’s Interior Design courses. I was sent images of a model made by one of my students. It represented a pavilion design and was well made and interesting to look at. Trouble is, I had no idea how big it was supposed to be.

The dictionary definition of scale is “The relative size or extent of something”. It is the relative part that is important. My student’s model was at scale because it was smaller than the building would be, but neither of us knew what that relative scale was. 

The human scale is One to One (1:1) at full size and is our most relatable and relevant point of reference, so I asked her to put some sort of human figure into her model, which she did.

I thought: Great! Turns out that a Lego Wolverine is about the right height for her design! But I thought I’d check. I said: He’s hilarious – but is he the right scale? What scale is the model and what height is he? She said: He is 4cm in height but I am a little confused, how do I work out the scale of my model? So I thought I’d work it out:

Lego Wolverine is about 45 times smaller than the height most often used as refence for a male – 1.8m (6ft). So, he is 1:45 scale. (You can say this as 1 to 45). Although ‘real’ Wolverine (the character or Hugh Jackman) might be or meant to be a bit taller, as he is part man part wolf after all and besides, that his bouffant hairdo must add several inches.

So, let’s say he is 2metres or 6 feet 6.74 inches tall. Stacked vertically, one on top of the other, 50 x 4cm Lego Wolverines equal 200cm (2metres). Therefore, our Lego Wolverine is 1:50 scale. A solid, industry recognised and well-used scale. My student seems to be spot on making her model at that scale.

I asked her to measure a dimension on her model, such as floor to ceiling height, to see if 1:50 is about right for how big she wanted her designed space to be.

She said: “My model is 16.5cm high so in relation to Lego wolverine at 1:50 scale, the actual real-life size of my model would be 8 metres high, which would be far too big. I’ve estimated that the height of the space I was observing is around 2.5metres in height, so the scale would be approx. 1:15, which would make the size of a person 10.4cm (using me as an example, I’m 156cm in height). I think that is right? I’ve added a new figure to my model which is a bit more realistic in terms of scale.”

To be clear; it’s not that Wolverine is small in real life (or at least in a film), he would still tower over my student. It’s that the true scale of the model has been established and in that designed space, in that world, Wolverine was wrong, he was more like a pet pooch.

Fundamentally, this is why scale is an essential tool for designers. It always takes a while for people to get to grips with scale, but if you work out in advance what scale you want to make your model or draw your drawing, you can use scale as a wonderful tool, not only to compare, but to influence our perception, to appreciate and to ‘feel’ the measure of interior spaces – to render the unimaginable, imaginable.


Mike Fairbrass


P.S. I love scale so much I wrote a book inspired by it! Albeit taking it to extremes:

Suddenly it fits in your head….


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Posted by author: Mike Fairbrass
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