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The Integration Of The Human Body Into Architectural Design Principles

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This essay explores the integration of the human body into architectural design principles. This exploration is done from different perspectives which focus on different aspects of the human body. The first perspective of the relation between human body and architectural design principles is taken from the “nature given” proportionality and design of the different parts of the human body with respect to one another. The second view point of this topic portrays the human body as a means of deriving measurements, which would become the standard that governs all architectural design principles. The last lens through which this relation is discussed focuses on the bias use of the “white male” body as the single typology for all concerns of design. I will be analyzing these different perspectives, with relation to the characteristics of the Sainte Marie de La Tourette.

As discussed in the reading, the most important aspects of architectural design as derived from da Vinci’s drawings and Vitruvius’ text were principles about hierarchy, proportion, order, geometry, organization, symmetry, and part-to-whole relationships. These principles were all applied in the design for the Sainte Marie de La Tourette.

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Let’s start with hierarchy, this can be shown in the vertical progression of the spaces in the building. As you vertically circulate the building, it progresses from public spaces to private, holier, sacred spaces. This vertical hierarchical method can be aligned with the human body as well in the sense of the arrangement of the body parts. The head; the most important part being at the top, followed by the body which houses the vital organs, then the legs.

The next principle; proportion, this can be seen in the Sainte Marie de La Tourette manifested in the window sizes. The proportion of the window openings at the lower, more public spaces, are significantly larger that the window openings at the upper more private space. This proportionality is dictated by the program of the spaces, this is reminiscent of how one of the aspects of the human body depicts another. As mentioned in the reading, “that as designed by nature, that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest part of the root of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height”.

Moving on to the principle of order, this manifests itself in the Sainte Marie de La Tourette in the spatial program of the building. From the disposition of space for the monks, to the practicing or impending monks, to the visitors.

There is a clear organization of the spaces, relative to their main inhabitants. The geometry in the building is quite evident, even to the lame man. This is exhibited through the relationship of the different surfaces, alternating void and solid spaces, and in the different configuration and combination of the rectangular shapes. Apart from these rectangular shapes, there are other forms of geometry encased in each of the four parts of the La Tourette such as a cylindrical helix staircase, a prismatic roof, a quadrangular pyramid with a series of polygonal apertures on the roof of a slanted cuboid protrusion on the church’s wall.

Symmetry can be perceived in this building through the major volumes of the structure, which are the four rectangular blocks which face each other, and are arranged surrounding and creating a central axis; the courtyard. The part-to-whole relationship can be grasped in the relation of the solid, three story rectangular block which houses the church, and how it communicates with the rest of the “U-shaped” structure. It spans the same width, and the same right angles, thus making a connection to the whole structure without necessarily being physically attached to it. On to the Modulor man created by Le Corbusier, as defined by him, “is a measuring tool based on the human body and on mathematics”.

Le Corbusier meant for this modulor system to be a channel through which the two discordant scales of the imperial system, and the metric system could be understood as one language. The modulor, for what it is, is a scale of measurement built on the height of a six-foot man, with his arm raised. It was aimed at creating an anthropometric scale to determine how much space the “biggest human” needed so as to have a better study to design architecture for all humans. Now that we have somewhat an understanding of this human centered measurement system, let’s explore its integration into the architecture of the Sainte Marie de La Tourette. In the church, the design for the cells have their geometry highly constructed on the Corbusier’s modulor height of 2.26m. This was for the fathers’ cells, the students and brothers in training had thinner cells based on the measurement of 1.83m from the modulor.

Now within the public spaces, the ceiling height is well above the 2.26m of the modulor.8The measurements of the modulor also influence the vertical divisions of the window openings.9These measurements are taken from different sitting and standing position of the modulor. Now, away from the different perspectives of the connection between the human body and buildings discussed in the book, I would like to explore this connection through my own eyes. The La Tourette has a minimalistic style to it, which is a reflection of the inhabitants of the space, the monks. The building consists of three floors which could be translated into the head, the torso and the limbs. These parts are unique in their own ways, and have different functions but become one in unison for the body to function as a whole, and are somewhat dependent on one another. This can be seen in the La Tourette; the program of the spaces differs from floor to floor. The lower floor, the refectory, consists of the dining room and the peristyle courtyard, which also functions as a ramp that leads to the lower church.

The middle floor or the entrance floor, contains the library, common rooms, oratory, atrium, cloister and conservation cells. The upper floor, or the cell floor entails the living quarters for the monks and other visiting inhabitants. As you can see, the different floors have different programs and uses, but take one floor out and the program or function changes, and the whole building becomes something entirely different. This shows how each floor is connected to one another. And what connects these different spaces and programs? The use by the inhabitants, just like in we humans as well. When do our heads connect to our legs? These different parts of the body do so when we decide to walk somewhere.

This integration of the human body into architecture is one that I wholly align myself with. Through this amalgamation of the two different entities, I feel we develop a deeper meaning for architecture. It also fosters a deeper bond with the humans who inhabit these spaces, and allows for a more innate understanding of what architecture could be. Furthermore, we may perceive architecture as more than just buildings, but as reflections of ourselves. A major issue I agree with is the point that Lance Hosey was trying to make in his text, that the human body extends beyond just the generic “white male”. The human body is too diverse to be shrunk into just one typology. An example of this difference was mentioned by Hosey, it was the difference between the leg length of the Japanese male and the black male was more than five inches.

This difference however is not represented in any anthropometric publications. In my eyes, this is negligence, and negligence in architecture often leads to failures. Only a matter time before these failures catch up with modern architecture. The ways integration of the human body into architecture design principles are vast and broad. From the principles of the natural design of the human body, to the use of the human body as a standard of measurement meant for all architecture. Through these different methods or lenses of integration, we come to experience architecture in a deeper sense, and this gives room forms of architecture, which we can still relate to over the course of a long period of time, due to this human connected integration. Hopefully, more body typologies are considered in the use of design in architecture as this could give more room for new architecture possibilities and designs.


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