Case Study: Ernst Neufert

Architects’ Data

If the importance of an architect equals the extent to which his work lives on in others, Neufert is the most important of the twentieth century. There is probably no architect who has not used Neufert, whether as a didactic tool or as a volume of references. Neufert’s involvement in the standardisation of architectural dimensions and building practices, for which he is best known, started in 1926.

The ‘A’ Standard

The DIN 476 standard is better known through the “A” series of paper formats. Released in 1922 and set out by German engineer Walter Porstmann, the system is based on the metric system (an A0 sheet has a surface area of 1 square meter), with fixed proportions (1:√2). These standard paper sizes allowed for increased efficiency in publishing and were first championed by the German War Ministry during World War I.

Neufert explicitly acknowledged the influence of the DIN 476 standards on his work, in his book’s opening pages: “Standard [paper] formats constitute the basis for the dimensions of furniture used for writing and record keeping. These are also constitutive of the dimensions of spaces. Exact knowledge of standard [paper] formats is important for the builder.” Neufert’s obsessive belief in standard systems even affected his book; unusually, it is the size of an A4 sheet of paper, making production inexpensive and the book easy to store and carry.

The Exceptional Pursuit of the Norm.

The Octametric System

Like the A-series format for paper, Neufert’s ideal brick was based on the metric system: one meter should contain eight bricks, so Neufert named his principle “the Octametric system.” Neufert’s brick sizes were all multiples of 12.5 centimeters, one-eighth of a meter.

In 1950 his Octametric system became an official DIN standard called “Dimensional Coordination in Building Construction,” DIN 4172, which led to the prescription of standard-sized windows, doors, kitchens, bathrooms, and even ceiling heights.

For Neufert, the modular system was as much about construction as about redefining spatial realities, whether they were idealized or derived from reality. British prime minister Harold Macmillan even described modular coordination as “a way of drawing Britain and the rest of Europe closer together.”

Man: Dimensions and Space Requirements