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Reflection On Chapter 7 Of Korydon Smith’s “Introducing Architectural Theory”

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In Chapter 7, Korydon Smith features three authors to define the relations between the human body and existing buildings. These authors are Vitruvius, Le Corbusier, and Lance Hosey.

In the chapter, Vitruvius focuses on the proportional relationships among the parts of a human body. For example, the human face is 1/10 the height of the body. He also argues that the design of a building strives for a correspondence among the measurements of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part. Vitruvius traces these proportions back to columns and intercolumniation, which is the space between adjacent columns.

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Similarly, Le Corbusier discusses mass production and standardization of a harmonious measure to the human scale. He argues that buildings should be the concern of heavy industry, and that houses should be mass produced. His dream was to set up a grid of proportions to serve as a universal rule, which is how “Le Modulor” was created. This measuring tool is based on the human body and on mathematics. The goal was that this book would be the basis for prefabrication of mass produced buildings.

Finally, Hosey discusses bodies in the “Architectural Graphics Standard” and how the different methods used to represent the body reveal the human figure to be gender and race specific – a white male. He claims that the natural perfection of man could be seen through the body’s relationship to primary geometry and thus men became the standard of measure.

All three authors viewed the relationship between body and building through their own particular lens, and each viewpoint is shown in many examples including the monastery of La Tourette near Lyon. A monastery is defined as a distancing from the world, which is exactly what the monastery of La Tourette near Lyon represents. For example, there is no visual connection to the exterior of the building. By stripping away the ability to view what is outside, the monks residing at the monastery are distanced from the rest of the world. The windows are strategically designed and placed in a way that panels partially cover the openings, so that only reflected light filters to the inside of the building.

Another strategy that implements this distancing concept is the design of the stairs entering into the building. There is an 8-inch gap between the top stair and the doorway, so that the monks literally have to climb into the building. This gives off the impression that the building is never actually connected to the exterior space. It is crucial for a monastery to include this distancing to accommodate the lifestyle of a monk, however it is also important for a monastery to consist of rough architecture to mirror the discipline a monk has to endure. The rough architecture of a monastery includes very little personal space. The bedrooms at La Tourette are very small and have smooth and rough walls. They only consist of the necessary items: a bed, chair, table, wardrobe, and toilet. Different from these rooms, the communal spaces include bright colors and large windows to allow a lot of light to shine in. This is where the sensory realm is stressed because of the physical senses being engaged. For example, the ocular sense is engaged by observing the bright colors, and the haptic sense is engaged by feeling the warm light shining in from the windows and touching the skin.

In regard to the human body, this monastery was designed using the measurements from “Le Modulor” to be proportional to the human body. For example, Corbusier designed each personal space to be 1’83 m or 2’26 m wide (dependent on the user), by 5’92 m long and 2’26 m high. In addition to these spaces, Corbusier wanted the monks to be forced to look up towards heaven, so he designed the terrace walls to be raised up to 1’83 m so that the outside views would be blocked. This building relates the human body to architecture very well, because every last detail was accounted for in the design such as the stairs entering up into the building, or the placement of windows and their corresponding panels.

Vitruvius’s argument that the design of a building needs to strive for correspondence among the measurements of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part, is very apparent in this monastery. For example, the relationship between where the window is placed on the entire building, and where it is placed in relation to the human body, is seamless and effective. Not only does the window look aesthetically pleasing from the outside, but the angle that the light shines into the building is also beautiful. This supports his argument that these proportions are traced back to columns because of the beauty of the unevenness of it all. To expand, a human’s retina is rounded which gives off a curved reality, so Greek columns were not evenly spaced so they would appear straight. Imperfect bodies result in imperfect architecture, which means we need flawed architecture so that buildings can appear to be perfect.

Another example of this would be the pilotis that the living area is supported on. To appear symmetrical and perfect, Corbusier was forced to unevenly space the columns apart from one another because of this “curved reality”. In Chapter 7, Vitruvius argues that, “These proportional enlargements are made in the thickness of columns on account of the different heights to which the eye has to climb. For the eye is always in search of beauty, and if we do not gratify its desire for pleasure by a proportionate enlargement in these measures, and thus make compensation for ocular deception, a clumsy and awkward appearance will be presented to the beholder. With regard to the enlargement made at the middle of columns…at the end of the book a figure and calculations will be subjoined, showing how an agreeable and appropriate effect may be produced by it.” This proves that the relationship between the human body and architecture does produce an aesthetically pleasing effect, and that it is necessary to have proportional architectural elements.

For the most part, I agree that buildings need a system of rules (preferably universal) to follow when it comes to being proportional. The human eye is so accustomed to visualizing everything in the world in proportions, it only makes sense to connect or relate architecture to the human body. I align my views most closely to Vitruvius’s and Corbusier’s arguments; however, I disagree with Corbusier’s view on mass production and standardization. Although mass produced houses are cheap, fast, and easy to fabricate, they lack an originality to them that hurts the beauty of the original design. There is no strength in numbers when it comes to “cookie cutter” houses, just an unoriginal and uninspiring look.

On the contrary, the idea of mass production at the human scale is truly innovative and deserves some attention. I also agree with Hosey’s critique on the race and gender specific body represented in “Architectural Graphics Standard”. Everybody is so different and unique from everyone else that architects need to take that into account when designing a building for a wide range of users. I find Corbusier’s argument on mass production and Hosey’s critique on the generalized human body to clash because it is impossible to design one house that perfectlyfits every demographic out there. Overall, each lens provided insight that I had not yet explored, and it was fascinating to dive into each one.

In conclusion, Chapter 7 of Korydon Smith’s “Introducing Architectural Theory”, dove into the relationship between the human body and architectural buildings. Vitruvius, Le Corbusier, and Lance Hosey all provided their viewpoints and arguments on the subject through their own particular lens. Vitruvius focused primarily on the proportions of the human body, and thus connected that to the building. Furthermore, he believed in the whole-to-part relationship and that every detail of a building needed to be proportional to the entire work. Similarly, Corbusier focused on the relationship between body and building, but as a mass production in the human scale. This idea led him to the creation of “Le Modulor”, which became the universal measuring tool for human dimensions in conjunction with buildings. Finally, Hosey critiqued the generalization of the human figure in the popular “American Graphics Standard”, and disclosed the importance of appealing to a larger demographic when designing a building. Overall, each author provided an interesting take on the same subject, and taught the importance of creating proportional buildings in relation to the human body.

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