‘Scalies,’ the Extras in Architectural Drawings, Finally Get Their Due

By on February 5, 2019

From CityLab:  Weighing in at 1,256 pages, An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures without Architecture (MIT Press) would seem to be the final word on its subject: “scalies,” those little people who occupy the fantastical world of architectural renderings, climbing atrium escalators or picnicking in courtyard plazas or simply looking happy to be somewhere. Yet according to Hilary Sample of MOS Architects — who compiled the book with her MOS co-founder, Michael Meredith—it is at best a first draft, and one that raises questions about people and architecture, some of them dark.

An Unfinished Encyclopedia includes more than 1,000 scale figures by 250-odd designers, presented in alphabetical order, from A (alto) to Z (umthor). Some are so beautifully drawn or irreverently realized that the buildings become almost afterthoughts. Others are grubby squiggles plucked from their Modernist machines for living. (While people in design drawings today seem to always be marching to or from brunch, that’s hardly been the case through history.)

CityLab spoke with Sample about timeless drawing styles, social justice in architectural rendering–land, and what makes a book pop.

Can you talk about the inspiration for this project? Whose drawings were you looking at that led you to say, “That’s it, we need to dive deep into the issue of scale figures”?

More or less, it came together around an invitation that we received from Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina to participate in the Istanbul Design Biennial [in 2016] that they were working on, about the human figure and how we think about that today. How we think about being human or not being human in relation to contemporary or modern times. For that project, we ended up making a curtain that we called the Selfie Curtain. It was very long, 150 feet long or something, [and] we put all these scale figures on [it]. To accompany that, we made what we were calling an unfinished encyclopedia.

The long and short of it is: We’re always drawing. It’s what we do in the office. It’s what we’ve always done, even as students. The scale figure is usually the last thing that comes into an architect’s drawing. Or traditionally, that’s the way it’s been thought of. In this case, we started by looking at canonical works and those architects that have been in the canon. Until recently — the canon is being redefined as we speak. We effectively removed all the architecture from these drawings and were left with the figure. We did that for a series of architects and never stopped. It became a project, and then it became the book.

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About Dede Hance