Scale

Eirik Heikes, PLA / President of TerraSite Design

I visited the Nelson Adkins Museum of Art in Kansas City this spring.  A most impressive collection populated the facility, and the architecture was well executed.  Light permeated the structure in areas where it should and it allowed for movement of masses of visitors in comfortable proximity to each other.  Being eye to eye with an obsidian gyrfalcon from Egypt carved 800 years BC was exceptional.   My joy at the diverse stroll through European, Roman, Persian, Contemporary, and other works of art seem to compound as I entered galleries and strolled corridors.   My wife Leanne commented on my excitement and the energy was infectious.

My pragmatic side went to calculations of pedestrian trip generation and intimate spatial ratios that made the space feel comfortable;  64 square feet per visitor, perhaps?    The significant works such as the Auguste Rodin that drew critical mass would need additional spill over space and perhaps overlapped with like pieces.  I began a mental Chautauqua while standing there; noting the powerful use of scale by the sculptor; and how the roughly 1.5x ratio of the human scale changed our perception.  The greatness of the piece was greater.  The scale of the observers felt smaller. 

I thought then of the parks in Oslo I visited as a child with a similar approach; Vigeland for one.   The massive size of the human sculptures was equally complemented with larger than life paths, railings, balustrades, columns, and such.   The plazas and park spaces were massive; and allowed for large crowds to flow effortlessly if not a slightly isolated from individuals and groups.  The ratio of 300 to 400 square feet per visitor is present there, even on crowed busy weekends, and interaction between them elective and not repressive.   The use of the landscape for buffering and spatial definition was done to perfection, as was the use of open space and of course the perception of a much larger facility through “borrowing scenery” from what surrounds; a tactic we Landscape Architects often employ (overlooking a lake, a greenspace, a river, a cityscene).    I recalled stories of similar approaches used in Volgograd at Pobedi Park.   Is the intent of this scale to make us as visitors feel a bit insignificant, perhaps?

The Monolith by Gustav Vigeland, located in Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway.

We walked out of the Museum in Kansas City into the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park and I noticed an immediate change in scale; the ratios of people spaces nearly doubled or tripled and we crossed the threshold from interior space to exterior.  My wife immediately appreciated the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ spacious bench while I took to clowning around with the 20x scaled shuttlecock in the lawn.   The expansive open space dwarfed the architecture while bringing focus to its portals.  This changing scale interjected fun and folly into the visit; while bringing down the perceived pace of movement to choices of a bit more relaxing nature.   Pathways were 12’ wide, generally, more than needed for sure (2.5x in fact); this allowed passing of users to be discriminant.  A large landscape, for certain, pacifies users, I decided.  This pacification is for certain a positive.  I watched as people tended to slow down a bit, daydream, converse in different tones, and take in their surroundings.  Perhaps the buffers and spatial separators assisted this in creating of enclosure.   My thoughts then turned to the prospect refuge discussions we have oftentimes as we design public spaces, streetscapes, plazas, and parks.   I noticed users employing the theory in the places they chose to sit or gather; to see and be seen while seeing without being seen.

View of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art from the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park.
Leanne Heikes and Sir Edwin Lutyens’ bench.
Eirik Heikes and the 20x scaled up shuttlecock sculpture.

On the opposite spectrum, our departure from the museum took us downtown where we gravitated to intimate spaces where proximity to other people was much more accepted and enjoyable.  We sat in a rooftop bar flanked by a solid barrier overlooking a busy streetscape.  36 square feet per person was more the norm here, and it encouraged interaction with others and sitting close together.  Again, prospect refuge impacted the placemaking with the wall behind us and seeing the public spaces as vista.    It felt comfortable, as did the mojito after walking through the great museum spaces and gardens.

My observations and thoughts converged on our responsibility as designers to consider varying scale differentiators in our work;  from project type to type and as the indoor and outdoor spaces bridge.  Sensitivity to scale is so important and can define the inherent success (or failure) of a project.

About Eirik Heikes, PLA / President of TerraSite Design

Eirik is a broad-spectrum Landscape Architect and has been dedicated to excellence and innovation for 24 years.  He is a team builder and a collaborator.  Eirik brings placemaking and a refinement to all projects, with a focus on human scaling and sustainability. He has worked in various regions of the United States and has a focus in the Rocky Mountain West.

eirik.heikes@terrasitedesign.com

2 Replies to “Scale”

  1. Nice piece Erik! Great observations on the careful design of these places, a reminder that successful and memorable spaces generally don’t just “happen.”

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