Fitting Buildings to People: Introduction

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Fig 1-16

People are the true measure of all things in building. Buildings are designed by people and built by people for inhabitation by people. At both ends of the architectural process, the designing and the inhabiting, the dimensions and movements of the human body are the major determinants of the shapes and sizes of things. This presents the problem that people vary’ a good deal in size, shape, and mobility. On the average, men are larger than women, and children come in all sizes (ill. 1-16, right). The average human today is considerably larger than the average human of a century ago, and we grow measurably with each generation (ill. 2-16). There is no such thing as an “average” human figure. Quite average-appearing men vary in height over a range of at least a foot (300 mm), and many exceptionally tall or short ones fall outside this range. The same is true for women. Body builds in both sexes vary in bone structure, musculature, and fat distribution. Young children are much smaller and less physically coordinated than adults but are more active. Adolescent children are nearly as large as adults but more active and in many cases better coordinated. Adults become progressively less agile through middle age until in later years many are quite restricted in their motions. Persons of any age, if on crutches, confined to a wheelchair, or otherwise disabled, are likely to have physical dimensions and requirements very different from those of fully mobile persons. Given this diverse clientele, then, by which of them should we measure our buildings?

Fig 16-2

The easy answer is, we should custom-design each building for the exact people who will wise it. But this is not always possible, because we must often build for unknown tenants. Even when we know intimately the occupants of a building, it's almost certain that someday they will move elsewhere and a new group of persons of unknown sizes and shapes will move in.

Children present a special problem because they grow. In a school we can resolve this problem to some extent by scaling different classrooms and toilet rooms to different age groups (ill. 3-16 below) while compromising somehow for the comfort of the adult teachers, but in a residence a child often grows up in the same room over a period of many years. A room scaled specifically as a nursery will grow obsolete as the child ages.

Fig 16-3
ill. 3-16

There is no fully satisfactory answer to this dilemma. The best we can do in most cases is to size building components to accommodate the preponderance of the adult population while leaving a few people of exceptional size or shape, along with the younger children, in the position of continually having to make accommodations to the building. Much of their strain can be eased through the provision of appropriately scaled furnishings, as seen especially vividly in the case of children. in residences, libraries, lounges, and other buildings in which the inhabitants are free to locate themselves in any of a number of places, spaces of varying scales and degrees of enclosure may furnish important opportunities for persons of different physical and psychic dimensions to find appropriate surroundings.

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