Chart of the Day: Pedestrian Perception of Buildings

Here’s an obvious diagram that we often forget about…

gehl chart ped viewing distances

[FYI, 1 meter = 3.2 feet; thus 5 m. = 16 ft., 14 m. = 46 ft., 23 m. = 75 ft, etc.]

It’s from one of Jan Gehl’s books, illustrating the actual visual perception of buildings from pedestrian point of view. What it’s showing is the relationship between distance and viewable building height. In other words, how far away do you have to be from a building in order to “see” it?

It turns out that because of the design of our human heads and eyes, the only part of a building that matters from the vantage point of the sidewalk is the very first floor. Everything else is out of sight, and out of mind.

In other words, the only time that people on foot even see or notice the “building as a whole” is from a great distance, such as from a freeway overpass, from across a river, or when they’re looking at a city’s skyline. Once you’re actually walking in and engaging with city buildings themselves, only the ground floor makes any perceptible difference to the sidewalk experience.

To me this seemingly simple fact is interesting in light of the conversation about what architecture should be focused on. Often architecture seems focused on the building as a whole, the way it looks from a distance. Meanwhile, for people actually walking around buildings, the only meaningful variable is the design of the ground floor.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.