Scale by any Measure

What comes to mind when you think about the word ‘scale’? Close your eyes for a moment. Think about it.

Are you back yet? OK, good. Here’s some images that show my progression of understanding the many meanings of this word.

images-1Train Crossing the CrossingTrain Crossing the Crossingleadingwholetbalance-scaleWeighing-Scales-1 17188Train Crossing the Crossing20140130-080444.jpgimages

This last image is a Tumbleweed Tiny House and represents the inspiration for my journey. Jay Shaffer, who is the original founder of Tumbleweed and who built and lived in one 16 years ago, thank you for shaking off convention, sharing your enthusiasm and popularizing this movement.

As a designer trained in the field of architecture, I now come to think of scale as something no longer associated with the physical world. It’s just pixels on screen, whether related to pinching on a multi-touch screen, or with the representational nature of a view that can be squeezed on to the sheet of paper necessary to convey 2D orthographic projection of a 3-dimensional computer model to lines, arcs and circles for the sake of interpreting those elements as information to be constructed in the real world. Whew. I need to catch my breath… Scale is so abstract, especially when working in a BIM (Building Information Modeling) environment such as Revit, that it becomes easy to forget how accuracy can be taken for granted.

You see, as part of my adventure into tiny house design and building, I purchased a toy. Yes, a scale-model of a shipping container. Still, I should have realized this is, in fact a toy. Should have done my research. I was just too giddy when ordering online and later opening the box, that I failed to verify the dimensions. Looking at it, something didn’t seem right.

Container 20'

This is supposed to represent an 8×20 (2438mm x 6096mm) shipping container. It’s at G, often referred to as LGB, scale — 1:22.5 (shown on my mid-2008 Macbook Pro for reference).

The fact that I could open the doors, got me wanting to crawl into this little future dollhouse, or place on my greyhound’s snoot. I started imagining 3D printed furniture, and a little paper cutout of Modular Man. Then something happened. I reached for a scale, the triangular kind, and low and behold it was wrong. Very wrong. It measured 103mm width x 298mm length x 115mm height (4 1/16″ x 11 3/4″ x 4 1/2″). Height can be ignored for this excercise.

So, my new ‘scale model’ was proportionally off.

I later learned that manufacturers create items that are called G and these items can range from 1:20 to as small as 1:32, although they all use the same track. OK. That, I can live with. Why would this model have been so good looking, detailed, yet not the proper length? It even is called a “Container 20′ ” on the box. It’s actually 2318mm x 6705mm (7′-7″ x 22′-0″). Granted, even the 8×20 designation is a nominal dimension… and we’ll save that for another day.

So, I have a new plan. This actually works out well. I originally intended to use the same scale for my contruction drawings and the scale model – 1:22,5 (I threw the comma in for all my European readers). PIKO, an otherwise high-quality model train manufacturer, let me down this time.

LGB makes a model of a shipping container that claims to be accurate, from the engineering scaled drawings. Their’s is at 1:20… both slightly larger, and as I also disovered is a scale I can create views of in Revit. Revit didn’t like the odd decimal ratio. So, I think I will invest in the better model, or at lest 3d print my Revit model (as it will be cheaper) and continue my sketches, in metric, from here on. Don’t worry America, I’ll still show (feet and inches) next to all my measurements on scale drawings.

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