The Human Scale: India At Eye Level

The human scale can best be described as the relationship between a body and its surroundings and a body is nothing if not the undeniable connection between our sensorial experience within the material world and how we perceive it within our own minds.  

Keeping this in mind ultimately leads to the question--how can we understand and perceive the human scale within constructed spaces?

“The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors that concretize and structure our being in the world,” says Juhani Pallasmaa in The Eyes of the Skin.

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© Lucia Mariotto
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© Lucia Mariotto

There is a reciprocal and constant relationship between the spaces we inhabit and the bodies that occupy them. From the monumental dome of the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi to the narrow, zigzagging landscape of Varanassi, there is a continuous connection between our physical, sensorial experience and every space that we inhabit. 

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© Lucia Mariotto
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© Lucia Mariotto

In this sense, there is something in the scale of Indian spaces that make us feel simultaneously tiny and contained. A spontaneous and delicate connection between the majesty of its temples and the intimacy and closeness of its alleyways sparks a dynamic relationship between these spaces and the bodies that move within them. 

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© Lucia Mariotto
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© Lucia Mariotto

We design spaces in the hope of generating a sensation within the bodies using them.

Understanding architectural scale implies the unconscious measuring of an object or a building with one's body and projecting one's bodily scheme on the space.

We can, in this sense, realize the necessity of measuring the body within its material surroundings in order to understand the human scale. 

As architects, we make decisions that facilitate the relationship between a space and its users. 

The task of architecture is to make visible how the world touches us.

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© Lucia Mariotto

The Human Scale is ultimately built around senses. What do we feel when confronted by certain colors, textures, dimensions, sounds, or smells within an architectural space? How do we move within an unknown space? What guides us and helps us decide which direction to take? It all comes down to the senses.

“A tension between conscious intentions and unconscious drives is necessary for a work in order to open up the emotional participation of the observer,” continues Pallasmaa.

Let's think a moment about this concept: unconcious paths, meandering with no particular destination in mind, and simply letting our intuition guide us. This is the only way to move through the intricate maze of streets that form the cities of the Indian subcontinent. Pallasmaa's text applies to the variety of scales that Indian architecture and urbanism offers to its observers.   

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© Lucia Mariotto

It is our never-ending vocational search to design in a way that engages the senses:

The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors that concretize and structure our being in the world.

How can we evoke different sensations without becoming entrapped in the hegemony that places sight above all other senses? We want to immerse our entire body in the spaces around us, to perceive the texture of the sculptures in the temples of Shiva, to visually grasp the porosity of the stones that built the stairways of the sacred city, to breath in the air blowing off the Ganges as we stand on the hanging bridge. 

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© Lucia Mariotto

All of the senses, including sight, can be considered as extensions of touch. Sight reveals what touch already knows. Touch defines the interaction between a body and its surroundings. It reads the texture, weight, density, and temperature of the materiality surrounding us.

The direct contact between our flesh and the space in which we find ourselves facilitates our connection with it. 

Understanding the human scale implies that we take into consideration each and every one of our senses. 

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© Lucia Mariotto

What place does hearing, taste, and smell have in our spatial experience?

Each city has its own echo that depends on the layout and scale of its streets and on the materials used to build them (...) sound measures a space and allows us to understand its scale

The influence of our physical surroundings on our day to day sensorial experiences and existence is undeniable. There is a simultaneously intangible and extremely concrete experience that unfolds between our bodies and the space surrounding us. 

There are cities that are remembered for their vivacity. Memory takes us back to the deliciousness of its sounds, smells, variations of light and shador (...) each city has its own range of tastes and smells.

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© Lucia Mariotto

Juhani almost perfectly describes the way with which my body evokes the spaces that I've come across in India. It's impossible to remember the winding streets without also remembering the aroma of masala hanging in the air. It's impossible to envision each temple covered in miniature statures of the gods without also remembering the feel of the stone on the fingertips.

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© Lucia Mariotto

The architectural experience brings the body and world closer to each other. The objects that surround me make every part of themselves known.

This phrase is as wise as it is literal: our bodies crave understanding of every facet of the spaces around us. It is not the work of the eyes, hands, nose, ears, or taste buds alone to gather every piece of information possible. Every sense simultaneously works together to paint the most vivid image possible. The human scale and the scale of the spaces is in constant communication. 

It would appear that this is what Juhani was talking about the entire time.

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© Lucia Mariotto

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Cite: Mariotto, Lucia. "The Human Scale: India At Eye Level" [La escala de los cuerpos: India a través de los ojos de la piel] 11 Nov 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Johnson, Maggie) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© Lucia Mariotto


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