HERE'S THE SCENARIO: YOU DESIGN A HANDFUL of houses to be built on an urban infill lot and you think the scale is appropriate for the other houses nearby. But are you really sure? This is the question a couple of professors are seeking to address.

As more cities experience urban revitalization, there is a concern that some new houses are out of scale with existing neighborhoods. To address this issue, Atlanta's Infill Housing Task Force asked professors Cheryl K. Contant, Steve French, Ph.D., and two graduate students at Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology to come up with a mathematical tool to find out.

Typically, says Contant, scale is decided by the builder and architect. “This tool could be used to ensure the home ‘fits' the current neighborhood.”

To calculate scale, Contant and French used a photo (or face print) of a house and determined how much space it occupies in the frame. They then found the “observed building height”—roughly, the height of the structure as seen from the street. The house's metric scale was determined by multiplying the face print by the observed building height to get the “weighted face print,” which represents the perceived impact of the structure from the street.

“The higher the number, the larger the scale,” the report says. “However, this number alone does not represent the relative scale of the house. Since scale is a relative concept, it is based on the relationship between one house and the houses around it.” In other words, you would have to do the same calculations for the houses nearby.

Contant says the tool has potential but is merely a prototype at the moment. The group has suggested that a demonstration project be implemented to test the tool further.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.