Publication: Arhitectura Magazine, No.5.2012
Body and Scale –Vision and Corporal Perspective
“The first thing I’ve got to do,” said Alice to herself, as she wandered about in the wood, “is to grow my right size again; and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden. I think that will be the best plan.”
What are the factors that determine the usual size of the architecture in a culture dominated by HD images?
In front of the Jean Nouvel’s The Golden Angelimage, stretched over the entire height of the Tower located in Smichov, Prague, we are suspended between the reduced scale of the body and the over-dimensioning of the city. We are witnessing a detachment of the architectural scale from the MACRO and MICRO concepts, simultaneously influenced by the visual determination as well as by the sensory perception.
What meanings may hold the small or large graduations, when the only constant entity refers to the body and the only variable is the architecture?
In dealing with the order of colossal, we relive the early years of our life, when we could not escalate a bench and we were living in a world too big for us.
Beyond the function of the representation of the monumental, we find a primary perception of the dimensions and of the uncertain materials. The visual influx of the fantastic from the last decades contributes to this condition where the body may be as large / small as a rabbit or a cup.
Juhani Pallasmaa notices that architecture should “tame the unlimited space and facilitate its occupation”, while helping us “to tame the time and dwell in a temporal continuum”.
Time and space become the determining couple in architecture, being preferred to the image; the built environment is a subjective translation of the personal connections with the environment as architecture re-determines itself according to the experienced perceptions.
The reposition of the modern and contemporary human in space resumes the old philosophical questions related to house and body: the House as an inner dimension; the House as a projection of spatial experiences; the House – allegorically in corpore; the House – a frame in the scenery design perception, where the spaciousness is corporeally determined / assimilated.
Throughout history, the theories put frequently in relationship the body and the space in a mathematical determination to the parts, with a specific representation of the proportions between the man and the built environment.
In the religious representations of the Middle Age, man appears as the dominant entity of the space / framework through an artifice of psychological manipulation, where the characters in the foreground are magnified according to their importance. The pictorial images apparently illustrate in “transaction” the architectural object and the characters at a much larger scale than they are in reality.
Giotto di Bondone reintroduces the spaciousness-setting, where the characters are inserted over the background-type passive architecture, as in his reference works in the upper Basilica of Assisi and Santa Croce, in Florence.
In the Legend of St Francis – the Miracle of Crucifixes, Giotto amplifies the human proportion in the house, minimizing the importance of the architectural framework. We find a direct relationship of subordination in Ognissanti Madonna, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (c. 1310). We find a similar phrase in terms of the Body-House in the works of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, for instance, in Effects of Bad Government in the City, (1337-‘ 39).
In Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye., Rudolf Arnheim remarks the particular typology of representation: the represented constructions are being clipped (cut off) while architecture remains a body layer with an unique contextual role: “The Invention of the child endures throughout the ages, so that even in the very realistic art of Durer or Altdorfer, the Holy Family houses in a building without the front wall, which is camouflaged in a non-persuasive way as a collapsed wreck”.
Architectural representations evolve towards Renaissance and Baroque, bringing man to his proper scale and integrating him into space as a constituent part. The House, as a three-dimensional space, begins to develop in the representation as a corporeal projection in terms of anthropometry. Following the tradition initiated by Vitruvius in the 1st century B.C., in the 15th century, man has become the complete measure of the universe, through the work of Leone Battista Alberti. On the one hand, he is Leonardo da Vinci’s universal man – the Vitruvian Man – in 1490, the perfect man; on the other hand, he is the model of symmetry and proportions in Mary Shelley’s film Frankenstein. The man is behind the planimetric geometry in Renaissance and becomes once again, in 1948 and 1955, Le Corbusier’s Modulor, the anthropometric unit of things.
In particular, we note the focus of Leonardo da Vinci beyond adjusting the formulae of Vitruvius and Alberti, the double framing of man in a circle and a square – two different centres of the body “size/magnitude” and “gravity”, two distinct architectural relationships. The magnitude depends upon space occupation, contrary to the gravity that places the body in an indestructible relationship with the horizontal plane. Not incidentally, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince described the position opposite to home through the first attribute of space-size “at home is so tight” – although it was on the infinite, horizontal surface of the B621 asteroid.
The advertising campaign for Lavazza in 2011, in a game of the commercial image that speculates the size according to its importance, approaches the scaled character of Lewis Carroll (Alice) as a Vitruvian Man, inscribed in a cup. In an iconic interpretation, the spatial subordination is the measure of all things. The Vitruvian Man is reinterpreted in the originary sense of geometry; it is the measure of things that change their substance according to him. The whole campaign rests on this game of human scale, following the trend set by other advertising versions that update the fantastic world of “Alice in Wonderland”, for instance: the column signed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue US, in December 2003.
“Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words <<EAT ME>> were beautifully marked in currants. <<Well, I’ll eat it,>> said Alice, <<and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!>>”
 Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrations: John Tenn, Macmillan,1865, PDFreeBooks.org.
In 1865, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, What Alice Found There and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll sees the main character growing and shrinking, having a fantastic dimension, related to the architectural spaciousness (real plan).
The ratio body-scale appears in a typical stance in the imaginary, where – in the context of growth – the real body relates to a form of the House. The optical shift produced at the end of the 19th century is determined by his fascination for curiosities, as we note in the works of Joseph Cornell, that include architecture in miniature worlds: Pink Palace (1946–48), Setting for a Fairy Tale, (1942).
The illustrations, signed Maggie Taylor for the Modernbook Gallery edition ofAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland,retrace as a background the typology of the Victorian house that is to be found in almost all film adaptations after Lewis Caroll.The dark atmosphere of the rigid house folds on the dark interiors in Antony House, built at the beginning of the 18th century, the location of the filming of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.
With deep roots in the 19th century (Lewis Caroll), the cinematography, in its horror productions, usually sees dollhouses most frequently in their originate form, as Victorian house forms. The visual hint incorporates the unconscious fear of man that cannot find his place in the world, for whom the scale of things changes alongside with his growing up process.
In the context of distortions of the body, often as a result of growth, the authentic architectural space becomes tight, lacking spaciousness. In 1920, Le Corbusier brought in architecture the scale of the sleeping wagon as the proper scale for the necessary, sufficient, hygienic housing, a manifesto of modernism, of the minimal Interior. In his designs we can perceive a fragmentation, a scrimmage of the repetitive elements that must fit into a space, in a frame (The Fall of Barcelona-Chute de Barcelone, 1939/1960).
read the full article in Arhitectura magazine 052012
The author thanks for the exceptional support in illustrating the article to Maggie TAYLOR, whose great vision leads us into a childhood world, a world with a different scale.
Maggie TAYLOR (born 1961) is a photographer and digital artist, settled in Gainesville, Florida, United States. Her specific perspective expressed in photomontage have strong surrealistic influences developed over a double major in Philosophy (Yale 1983) and Photography (University of Florida 1987). The works can be found in various collections including: The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, The Centre for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ, The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, The Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL, Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium; Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, NationsBank, Charlotte, NC, and the Prudential Insurance Company, Newark, NJ, etc.
Digital artwork, Copyright Maggie Taylor, Almost Alice Series, 2008; illustrations included in the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland edition, Lewis Carroll, Modernbook Gallery, Palo Alto, 2008.
Call the next witness. 2008, Almost Alice series, copyright: Maggie Taylor
The herald. 2006, Almost Alice series, copyright: Maggie Taylor
It’s always tea-time. 2006, Almost Alice series, copyright: Maggie Taylor
The great puzzle. 2006, Almost Alice series, copyright: Maggie Taylor
I’m grown up now. 2006, Almost Alice series, copyright: Maggie Taylor
 Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrations: John Tenn, Macmillan,1865, PDFreeBooks.org.
Jean Nouvel, Golden Angel Tower, Prague, 2000.
Jean Nouvel, speculating the local folklore, embedded the guardian angel image on the building corner facade looking over the river Vltava and Vysehrad ruins. The reproduction depicts the actor Bruno Ganz, the “angel” of the Wings of Desire movie, by Wim Wenders, 1987. Critically perceived in terms of scale, materials and iconography, the building has proposed the unification of four existing buildings under a large curtain, with a high of 32.5 m.
 Juhani Pallasmaa – The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. West Sussex: Academy Press; 2nd edition, U.K., 2005.
 Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in città, 1338-1339, Sala della Pace, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Rudolf Arnheim – Arta și percepția vizuală. O psihologie a văzului creator, II-nd edition, translation: Florin Ionescu, Polirom, București, 2011, p. 198.
 Alberti, Leon Battista – On the Art of Building. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1991.
 cf. Keele apud Michael John Gorman – STS 102: „Leonardo: Science, Technology, and Art”, Stanford University, accessed: 05.12.2011 – http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300771h.html, accessed: 02.03.2012.
 Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrations:John Tenn, Macmillan, 1865, PDFreeBooks.org; Carroll, Lewis – Alice în Țara Minunilor.translation: Elisabeta Gălățeanu, illustrations:Mabel Lucie Attwell. București: Editura Tineretului, 1958.
 Lewis Carroll – What Alice Found There, illustrations: John Tenn, Macmillan, 1871, PDFreeBooks.org.
 Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking-Glass, illustrations: John Tenn, Macmillan, 1871, PDFreeBooks.org.
 Ilustrations Maggie Taylor for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, author: Lewis Carroll, Modernbook Gallery, Palo Alto, 2008.
 Antony Estate, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL11 2QA; early 18th century. Peisagistic resort signed by Reginald Pole Carew, Humphry Repton (c. 1790), accessed: 03.02.2012 – http://www.gardensofcornwall.com/outdoor-kids/antony-house-and-garden-p133063
 Alice in Wonderland, directed: Tim Burton, screenplay: Linda Woolverton, after novels by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, and Through the Looking-Glass, 1871, production: Walt Disney Pictures, Roth Films, Team Todd, Zanuck Company, 2010.
 Le Corbusier – Unité d’habitation , Cité Radieuse – Marseilles, France, 1952.
 Le Corbusier, Complex Weissenhof, Stuttgart, 1927.
 MVRDV, Didden Village, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2002-2006.
El Laberinto del Fauno, directed, screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, coproduction: Estudios Picasso, Tequila Gang, Esperanto Filmoj, in association with: Sententia Entertainment, Telecinco, OMM; 2006;
Alice in Wonderland, director: Jonathan Miller, production: BBC, Jonathan Miller. Screenplay Jonathan Miller, after a Lewis Carroll novel, 1966.
 Scott Thill – Bright Lights Film Journal, November 2003 | Issue 42, http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/42/alice.php, accessed 01.02.2011;
 Jonathan Miller, apud Scott Thill, Bright Lights Film Journal, November 2003 | Issue 42, http://brightlightsfilm.com/42/alice.php, accessed: 02.03.2012.