Design Class: learning to love the scale

Have you ever had a designer ask what you think of the scale? Has it given you pause for concern, filling your mind with dread at the thought that last night’s seven course degustation with matching wine flight is already showing round your middle?

Fear not.

The type of scale we’re talking about here is nowhere near as scary as the ‘number-climbing-higher’ machines that we keep hidden in the bathroom so they don’t steal our will to live.

This type of scale should be treated with respect though, as it also has the ability to make you feel either very comfortable or very uncomfortable in a space.

Scale describes how something – a building, chair, tree, sculpture - sits in relation to its context. Something is called ‘out of scale’ when it’s perceived to be either too big or too small for its location, causing the overall effect to appear out of balance.

Let’s say you were considering adding a fountain of some sort to your courtyard garden, fed from recycled water you’d collected. Here’s your garden now…

...and here are two options for your fountain.

Option 1

...and Option 2:


What do you think?

You might feel that the first fountain is ‘out of scale’ because it is too small, and barely draws attention to itself.

You might also feel that the second fountain is also ‘out of scale’, this time for being too big, overwhelming the space and threatening to drench you whenever you walk past.

The right scale fountain for your garden is probably somewhere in between the two.

What happens though, if you quite like the dramatic effect of that great big fountain?

Is it OK to play around with scale?

Sure, if that helps you create the effect you’re after.

Say you spend a lot of time reading in the garden and drinking cups of tea – it’s what you do to relax.

You might deliberately choose to have an over-size (‘out of scale’) garden chair to celebrate your favourite thing.

Scale is one of the many Spatial Qualities you have available to create the house, garden, park or city you love.

Once you start noticing the scale of different elements and spaces, you’ll feel clearer about what you consider to be 'in' or 'out' of scale, and can more confidently engage in the design process for your project.

Now it’s over to you.

Have you ever visited a place (maybe a garden or a park) and noticed that one or more elements was out of scale? How did this affect your experience and what do you think would have improved it?

Let me know in the comments section.

Of course, if you found this interesting and useful don’t forget to share with a friend, and I’ll see you soon for more Design 101.