How much does your building weigh? It is the famous question with which Sir Norman Foster remember the clairvoyance of his master Bucky Fuller trying to make people think about the efficiency of architecture. This phrase came to my mind when I read the news about the International Bureau of Weights and Measures that this month has come together to change the definition of Kilo (also of ampere, Kelvin and mole). The scientific community does with these units what in its day they did with the meter, to establish definitions that do not depend on physical models. Because the physical models however stable they are (the Great Kilo guarded by the scientific community is a cylinder of iridium-platinum) at the end, vary their dimensions, either by the ambient conditions or by their repeated use.
Since Babylon, to agree on units of measure has been a bone of contention…Undoubtedly the anthropometric measures have been the basis of the first systems and those units have maintained their validity throughout the history even some of them last, especially in the British Imperial system, with their feet and their inches.
The foot, which comes from its direct identification with the human foot has been widely used by the different civilizations, the Roman foot was equivalent to 29,57 cm in front of the Carolingian foot whose relation is 9/8 of the Roman (33,27 cm). From these measurements their multiples were extrapolated so the decemped or Roman pole equivalent to 10 feet (2,957 m) and its version in area decempeda cuadrata (scripulum) established units for the calculation of areas.
Each civilization established a system more or less accepted as a basis for quantification and from there will stem all kinds of commercial, legal or of course architectural relations. Relations have clearly not been without controversy and measures are not accurate in all territories. The Galician ferrado is its maximum exponent, unit of land area, which varies from region to region with ostensible differences even between neighbors.
I remember conversations with Rosina Gomez Baeza when speaking about architecture and art she quotes Secundino Zuazo “current architects have serious scale problems, they should measure in castillian yards” The Castilian foot, somewhat smaller than the Roman one (27,8635 cm) serves as a basis for the yard (three feet) that equals to 0,835905 meters, that’s it, something less than one meter, so Zuado pretended that the buildings shrank to adapt to a more appropriate scale.
Science helps us with the pattern but the proportion is still something difficult to control at least through the scientific method…