Taking measure of a site: An inquiry into dimension and scale in the building and rebuilding of a single block

Alice Gray Read, University of Pennsylvania


As an architect approaches a site, particularly an urban site, with an intention to build, the first encounter is a process of assessing, sizing up, then measuring the place as a means of acquaintance. Measure is the architect's metier. Yet what does it mean to measure? How do measures define the body and locate us in place? Is measure only a standardized operation or can it be recognized as a creative act? This work looks at the fabric of a single block in Philadelphia, through site measures, historical research and a reading of fictional imagery associated with the city, to parse many means of measure went into each stage of its building and rebuilding. Several different types of measure emerge each of which gives the street a different scale and pace to specify inhabitation both physically and imaginatively. Different systems overlaid on one another in an older city measure the city in alternate ways to tell multiple stories that create points of intensity at places of overlap and invite innovation in design. Changes in architectural scale likewise create disjunctions in the fabric that open to narrative readings, fantasy and fictional allusions that become part of the ordinary city. This work recognizes measure as a mediator that brings disparate things into contact with one another, as dimensions specify construction joints between two different building materials. Measure allows aspects of real sensual experience, material architecture, images and fictional allusions to create relationships in which they redefine one another and give quality to architectural space. The means of measure changes the measurer.

Subject Area

Architecture|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Read, Alice Gray, "Taking measure of a site: An inquiry into dimension and scale in the building and rebuilding of a single block" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9840231.