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In Detail

by Leo Spurgin



1474 miles in diameter.

2.66 billion miles away at its closest point to Earth.

To put that in a scale that we can understand, that is over 29,000 years of driving in a car at 60 miles an hour in a straight line. This distance, although comprehensible from a numerical standpoint, is unfathomable based on our human understanding of spatial relationships. When it was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, this fuzzy white image is what became known as the 9th planet in our solar system.


As architects, we are expected to have an intimate understanding of spatial relationships. Fortunately, we are equipped with more than fuzzy ideas similar to the images above to express these special relationships. However, like astrophysicists and astronomers, no matter what tools we use one of the most difficult aspects of our profession is effectively communicating a sense of human scale to our clients. How can we as architects help our clients to understand the spatial relationships within our designs and how the human scale fits in?


In the late 1990s, the Hubble Space Telescope provided our planet with a better idea of what Clyde Tombaugh discovered so far from our home. This tool allowed scientists to develop a better understanding of the complexities of Pluto’s surface. The diagrammatic tools that we use as architects allow our clients to begin to develop an early understanding of the basic spatial relationships that are essential to our designs. By understanding these relationships, the sense of scale of our overall design also becomes more clear to our clients.


On July 2rd 2015, NASA’s New Horizons captured the above image 7.8 million miles from Pluto after traveling for 9 years. This distance is equivalent to “driving” around the earth 985 times. The fact that the human race has engineered a tool that can take an image from this far away is astounding! Our designs reflect this progression once we define the function of each space. By familiarizing our clients with these functions, they develop a strong understanding of the human spatial interactions that will occur within. Although the details of our design are not quite clear, the overall design is physically defined to the point where our clients can begin to place themselves within each space.


On July 13th, 2015 at a range of 476,000 miles, New Horizons captured this detailed image giving the human race a clear understanding of the dwarf planets physical characteristics including mountains, valleys, and craters. When we present our designs to our clients rendered with inhabitants and other objects of everyday human interaction, their understanding of the human scale within each space drastically improves. With such detail, envisioning family, friends, coworkers, customers, or clients inhabiting our designs is no longer a fuzzy idea to our clients. It becomes an exercise in reality and provides them with a sense of the spatial relationship that we strive to help our clients understand clearly during the design process.


Pluto is 2.66 billion miles away from us yet somehow our human desire to explore, to see, and to understand more clearly has driven us to engineer a craft that can carry a device to capture the above photograph of this round body of frozen minerals and water from only 7,800 miles away! This astonishing feat was only made possible by the desire to see in detail.

*Photographs from NASA’s “Views of Pluto Through the Years” edited by Rob Garner