From Vitruvian to the Variable

The ideal pattern and symmetry of the human body underpins Vitruvian ideals for architectural design. Three architects challenge this notion as outdated because it fails to account for human diversity. Their discussion paper takes us from the Vitruvian to the variable body and the role of universal design.

“The architectural module has long been associated with the concept of measurement, where standardisation of the human body is used to define absolute modularity.”

Image is of the classic Vitruvian Man by Italian artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.

The classic image of Michelangelo's Vitruvian Man standing with arms outstretched and legs apart.

The Vitruvian concept reduces the human body to standard measurements to create ‘human scale’ for designing space. The variability of the human condition is contrary to this notion.

The architectural ‘module’ is a concept linked to measurement. It is associated with the scale of the human body which defines proportions and how people interact with space.

The authors discuss the creation of a module to account for the variables of the human body – to make variability the foundation of the module. Their paper refers to case studies with photos of where designs exclude people.

The quest for best solutions is apparent in the continuous updating of regulations and tools for accessibility. Integrating disability access standards with universal design is a more inclusive approach to design. The universal design element accounts for human variability in practical, social and ethical ways.

The title of the paper is, Beyond the Body: Rethinking the architectural module to promote social inclusion. The paper is in both Italian and English. The authors use a good deal of academic prose in the English version.

Vitruvian Man

The drawing of the Vitruvian Man above illustrates the idea that the dimensions of the individual limbs of a human follow mathematical laws. Therefore, buildings should also be as well-proportioned and well thought-out as humans themselves. This theory it assumes everyone has the same body size and shape, which of course, is not the case. However, elements of Vitruvian thinking continues to reside in the myth of the average human being.

From the abstract

The architectural ‘module’ is about the measurement and standardisation of the human body. This narrow view of the module’s applicability is problematic, particularly in processes of environmental accessibility and inclusion.

This paper critically explores the limits of the traditional measurement module, rethinking the concept of modularity to account for physical and perceptive diversity. We aim to promote social inclusion and universal design in architectural projects for people.

The paper concludes that the evolution of the concepts of the module and the human being requires a revision of their very meanings, calling for a more inclusive approach to design and planning in our contemporary world.

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