what we're reading now

diving into the details of the human dimension.

David Brooke Robinson


March 1, 2022

We design buildings for human beings. So, it’s really important to be thoughtful about the human dimension and how the uniqueness of each and every individual might affect their experience of a space.

Aside from measuring an individual (which we have had occasion to do), many wonder how we find the information to provide guidance on this subject. I’m sure there are many great resources out there, but one of the best reference books architects and interior designers reach for, and the one I happen to be “reading” now, is Architectural Graphic Standards.

Now you might be thinking, “What kind of dweeb reads reference books?” Well this architect just happens to be one of those dweebs, and while it’s not the kind of book many would read from cover to cover, it is so rich with information, sometimes it’s hard not to go down the rabbit hole!

I love that on the very first page of the first chapter, it provides a plethora of graphic images and dimensional averages (large, medium, and small) for adults and children in every imaginable situation. For example, there are dimensions for the average height of the heel on a high heel shoe, the height of a kitchen counter or bathroom sink, the reach length for a child’s arm, the recommended width for walking with one bag or striding with two bags. It is nearly endless in its content. Yet even with all of this information, it’s really important to consider design and architecture beyond the statistical data.

An originally compartmentalized space was renovated to create a spacious, light-filled kitchen/living area, much more appropriate for a tall homeowner.

One project that comes to mind is a townhouse renovation we did for a good friend who was quite tall. We had many discussions about the design of the cabinetry and countertop heights in particular, because the homeowner experienced back strain when preparing meals and using the bathroom sink. So we considered all sorts of options. And while one was raising the kitchen countertops, we ended up keeping the countertops at a standard 36 inches high, because there was a concern that the cabinets would look and feel too tall within the space, be uncomfortable for others utilizing the kitchen, and possibly be a liability if the home was ever sold. In this case, the homeowner simply used a thick butcher-block cutting board for preparing meals and other kitchen tasks. We also removed a main wall, which made the overall space feel much larger and less constraining for the homeowner.

Concept sketch illustrating ergonomically designed bathroom ideas for a tall individual.

However, we came up with an idea for the main bathroom that better addressed the ergonomic comfort of the homeowner and looked great within the space! Essentially, a standard height counter was specified with a vessel sink that sat on top of the counter, and an overhead soffit was removed to create a greater sense of height within the space. This solution improved the comfort and physical well being of the homeowner, while also fitting more naturally with the desired aesthetics of the space.

Before and after images of a bathroom renovation for a tall individual.

So, while dimensional standards and human ergonomics are an essential and quite fascinating aspect of design, it’s also really important to consider them in the context of sensory perceptions, such as sight, sound, touch, and the overall sense of a space. For it is the thoughtful bringing together of both the measurable and un-measurable aspects of design that truly make a space successful!