Open ended thoughts on “Man: The Universal Standard”

October 21, 2013


Spatial requirements, what does it mean? What is the space of my requirements? How much space do I need? How much space does my body need? And what does “need” mean?

Building a body of architecture is expensive. If the volume of the built exceeds the users needs, the built becomes too expensive. If the volume fails to meet the users needs the project has failed and the effort is lost. The building will then have no blood pumping through its arteries and veins, and it dies.

I have been browsing through Neufert: Architects’ Data, a guidebook for architects and planners that was first published 1936. According to Amazon it “[…] provides an essential reference for the initial design and planning of a building project. […] it provides a mass of data on spatial requirements and also covers planning criteria and considerations of function and siting.” It has become the go-to source for architects, designers and planners since, answering questions regarding spatial requirements and general configuration and  arrangement of spaces and functions within buildings. It is built on the idea of the Normalmensch, the average, standardization, repetition…

Diller describes that at “the end of the nineteenth century, the body began to be understood as a mechanical component of industrial productivity, an extension of the factory apparatus.” (p. 77) The body seems to be only one of the pieces in the machine of living. The needs are averaged, and calculated. The body is a part of a bigger machine, a part.

The documents such as the Architects Data are made with good intentions; to ensure that every body can claim the right to their own space. Minimum space for all the normal bodily functions and rituals, the recommended amount of sunlight, air, etc. We architects tend to use this data without blinking. It saves us precious time in designing. We have to be critical about documents like these. Even though they are mostly well intentioned they can be dangerous, misleading, sexist, favoring the privileged and reducing the diversity of people down to a mere average.

Because even though we are well intentioned too, bodies of the built last longer than that body’s blood, the users – and the shortcuts we make as architects become shortcuts for our predecessors. We need to do some “cutting and carving into the very flesh of architecture and, revealing the many incarnations and incorporations that have constituted its matter and spirit over the centuries.” (Teyssot p. 8)

Katla M.

(For the time being I will borrow a picture from Neufert: Architects Data and a brilliant (dissident) one from Raquel Demorais blog (reference below)).


Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in Francesca Hughes, ed. The Architect Reconstructing her Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, pp. 74-95.

Georges Teyssot, ‘The Mutant Body of Architecture’ in Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, Flesh: Architectural Probes, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994. )

Ernst Neufert, Peter Neufert, Bousmaha Baiche, Nicholas Walliman, Architects’ Data, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2012.

Picture references:

1) Ernst Neufert, Peter Neufert, Bousmaha Baiche, Nicholas Walliman, Architects’ Data, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2012.



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