Human Scale

Here in Bristol (UK) a couple of years ago a new shopping area was built. It’s called Cabot Circus. It’s not my kind of place. I think it (like the Mall at Cribbs Causeway) is supposed to replicate an American shopping mall. Never having been to America, I have no way of judging that. What I can judge is that it is not human scale. It is an attempt at creating a cathedral to spending money, and wasting time in it’s worship.

Also recently I have had to visit Southmead Hospital, a recent building that again is not human scale.

It is another cathedral, but to which god I cannot fathom, and whoever thought that sick and scared people want to enter a large impersonal foyer has probably never been ill.

As I move around Bristol I am struck again and again, that the new buildings put up in the last 10-15 years owe little to practicality and intended use, and much to being “impressive”.

These buildings are not intended to give us comfortable, reassuring, safe space. They are to impress and intimidate us.

Even new housing owes little to what makes people feel at home and secure. It is much more about fashion. This has been the case with housing since it became big business rather than personal endeavour.

Most inhabitants of modern western cultures do not believe they have the skills they need to build their own homes. They do not know history where the home you could build in one day on common land is yours.

I would imagine a great deal of time was spent before hand stockpiling materials, and gathering friends and family to help out on the day. And we can see how homes grew room by room as need arose (and materials became available), leading to some fantastically quirky houses.

Modern houses are not built to meet human needs, they are built to fit a stereotype. They are built with a “one size fits all” mentality. But none of us is a stereotype and most of us struggle to make our homes work in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves.

And when you step outside? Do you feel uplifted? I can pretty much guarantee that, if you live in an urban area like me, you don’t. With grey and beige as the predominant colours, even with the unusually high proportion of green space in Bristol, much is depressing and demoralising.

The temporary escape to the local park is a lifeline, but all around is grey and noisy and the wrong scale. Cities are not human scale, people need open space to catch their thoughts and breath.

Further reading:

Small Is Beautiful – E F Schumacher

Human Scale – Kirkpatrick Sale

Permaculture Magazine (

Transition Network (


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