The Importance of Correct Scale for Public Sculpture

Published: June 15, 2024

I really like this large sculpture in the median in Berlin near the famous and huge KaDeWe department store (Kaufhaus des Westens). This is on Tauentzienstrasse, writing the street name in English. The department store is about five stories tall, although the stories are different heights so this is not a precise statement.

correct scale for public sculpture

The point is that unlike many, many sculptures, especially the shiny abstract and geometric pieces, this one is on a large enough scale to hold up to the surrounding buildings and outsized advertising nearby. The shopping attractions understandably all are making a bit for my attention, but this sculpture is large enough to feel appropriate to its setting and to command a viewing.

The sculptors were Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff and Martin Maschinsky. This was installed in the late 1980s. It was ironic because it was sculpted before the fall of the Berlin wall and supposedly is about the brokenness of Berlin into West and East. Regardless, this location in the former West Berlin, also near the Kaiser Wilhelm church that was bombed in the last world war, is really enhanced by something large enough to make sense.

I just wish that other cities would be as insightful when they are commissioning or purchasing these dinky little bright yellow, red, or purple sculptures that don't have any particular idea behind them and that can't stand up to the scale of the buildings where they are placed. The right scale for a public sculpture is the difference between something that is eye-catching and something that is just taking up space, and costing some public-spirited corporation, government or individual money.

We wholeheartedly advocate that it is important to find the appropriate scale for a public sculpture that purports to relate to the surrounding buildings. If you need more background about the issue of size and scale, or are just beginning to think about such things, see the urban design principles page.

An additional point to make for our readers is that not all public sculptures are designed to relate to a wide boulevard and surrounding tall buildings, not to mention larger-than-life advertising banners.

We just point this out so that folks dealing with smaller scale environments, especially in small towns and cities, are not intimidated into thinking that they have to have a huge sculpture to make an impact.

For instance, an heroic-man-on-the-horse monument, which was popular from the Renaissance through the first half of the twentieth century, would just be grotesque at this height.

But yes, for these contemporary abstract sculptures, which sometimes seem designed to add no more than a pop of color and a suggestion of motion, doing something at a large enough scale to be important in the setting is a key to success. Otherwise, when you place a three foot high red kinetic sculpture in the median of a wide boulevard that is flanked by five-story buildings, you are usually spending money unwisely.

What is even better is that although abstract, the Berlin sculpture actually has some meaning attached to it.

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  4.  › Correct Scale for Public Sculpture

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