LEE YANG YANG

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an architect
Archive for June, 2020

SEXAGESIMAL HUMAN

anthropometric scale of proportions

presented at EMAGN + SONA 2020 online talk series

A proposed anthropometric scale of proportions in the traditions of Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Modular Man by Le Corbusier and Universal Man by Ernst Neufert. However rather than basing on the goldern ratio, this system utilises the dimensions already standardised in the building industry and its traditions in measurements and theory of numbers. The word sexagesimal, which translates to base 60, or in this regard 600 milimeters or roughly 2 feet forms the basis of this system of proportions. In observation of crafting and building architecture, these dimensions reappear and already in use in the current building industry, except now to formalise the interchangeability between differents trades and craft.

The cabinetmaker’s 900mm high benchtops and 600mm wide cabinets, the tiler’s 300mm x 600mm standard tiles, the carpenter’s 450mm and 600mm timber stud spacings, the bricklayers 120mm x 240mm brick formats, the panel suppliers of 1200mm x 2400mm plywood, plasterboard and facade panels. This goes also to 900mm x 2100mm standard door opening, 2100mm minimum non-habitable ceiling height, 2400mm minimum habitable ceiling height to parking bay of 2700mm x 5400mm. 

The history of these dimensions whilst now universalised by metrification, can be traced to the standardisation of the American Portland plywood in the early 1900s of 4 feet x 12 feet or roughly 1200mm x 2400mm and prior to that the carpentry dimensions in imperial measurements of feet and inches. And to go further back in time, these imperial units followed from American to British imperial units particularly 1 foot to 12 inches (roughly 300mm), to Roman foot (pes) and Greek foot (pous) imperial units, and then finally Mesopotamian and Egyptian origins of the royal cubit (roughly 450mm) measured as length of elbow.

And the numerical system of base 60 in itself can be traced back to Egyptian, Babylonian history (whilst also reappears in Chinese history), simply because of it is ease of division and in its use of time measurements in relation to astronomy; 360 degree as full circle, 360 days in a year, 12 months to moon cycles, 12 hours for both day time and night time, and into Babylonian 60 minutes and 60 seconds.

And the word human in Sexagesimal Human intends to transcend the word man used in both Vitruvian Man and Modulor Man. Whilst the Modulor Man is based on the six-foot man at 1828mm and its division to golden ratios, which arguably made its metric measurements difficult to work with, Sexagesimal Human approximates the imperial to metric measurements for its ease of division followed from tradition of base 60, approximating the human height at 1800mm, with 150, 300, 600 increments and divisions. And whilst this system of proportions facilitates interchangeability and ease of use, it should be noted that it should not be followed as a strict system, as with any standards of dimensions do not always account for the individual ergonomics and contextual situations. Nevertheless, the Sexagesimal Human scale of proportions whilst itself grows from experiences of practicality and formalises its use, attempts to reaffirm its tradition to histories of industrialisation, metrification, imperial units, and theory of numbers.