How do you envision 100 feet?

blue whale-01When you think of the height or length of something, how do you visualize it in your mind? A couple football fields, the Eiffel tower… When I think of a longer distance, a blue whale, roughly 100 feet long, pops into my head. In the 2nd grade, I distinctly remember visiting the Cincinnati Museum Center’s exhibit on the giants of the deep and was blown away by the size of the blue whale replica, almost magically suspended from the ceiling.  For some reason, this reference stuck with me as a way to visualize measurements.

So this relates to building a community garden and pavilion because? It’s actually pretty important. Understanding scale and distance is vital to discerning the space within and beyond architectural interventions. Last Friday during studio desk crits, we were trying to get a true grasp of just how big our site really was, the square footage of the garden beds and what that meant for our individual design schemes. Drawing tiny boxes in AutoCAD and trying to comprehend them in the three- dimensionality of reality is pretty difficult. Professor Pastre urged us to utilize the CAC.C’s wonderful courtyard as a method of interpreting space in a real-world perspective.

So on this beautiful Saturday morning, Yiwen and I set out to document our courtyard. It’s safe to say I’ll never look at that space the same.  It’s roughly 220 feet long and 100 feet wide (about 2 1/4 blue whales x 1 blue whale). It took us 52 seconds to casually walk the length and 23 for the width.  Which is roughly the size of the general area we’ll be working with! The courtyard (and our site) seem so much smaller now. It was also helpful applying both time and dimensions to the space. Knowing this information has definitely allowed for a better design process.  For example, if the pavilion and farthest garden bed were 100 feet apart, you could envision it as an enormous mammal or a quick 30 seconds.

Questions started to arise later on today as I was applying this information to my trace paper. Why did the courtyard seem so condensed once I realized this information? Why does an empty site seem so much bigger than a cloistered plaza? Buildings, trees, light poles and vacancy all have a relationship to one another and how they each contribute to defining space can alter even the slightest human perception of enclosure or openness . While this is described in probably every architecture book assigned in school, it certainly takes on a new meaning when you experience it yourself.

Now it’s back to the drawing board, or kitchen table for that matter.

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