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Inches to Metric: Zionism Through Design

# Inches to Metric: Why Scale Matters

Beth Kopin give away, tape measure in both inches and metric.

When I tell people we have a home in Israel I get a curious look. They naturally ask what I do there? When I say I work in Israel, as an architectural interior designer — and commute, I get a confused look. I usually laugh and say there are endless barriers to entry, but I love a good challenge…What are some of the challenges?

Other than:
-US designers are trained in US standards, (inches/feet).
-The world including Israel is designed and built in metric.
-Difference in construction methods.
-Dealing with clients and trades often in my best broken Hebrew.
-Figuring fees in shekel to dollar conversions.
-Transferring money between countries.
-Finding talented staff to execute the design.
-Eight hour time swing.
-Phone numbers between the countries are awkward, when outside of Israel you drop a zero when dialing, in Israel you add an extra 0 to the local number, (whoever thought that was okay)?

The average American who seldom goes to Israel or abroad, might be interested to learn that the majority of the world uses metric, army standard time (as in 13:00=1:00 pm, no need for am/pm), 220 electric current, centigrade (for weather and cooking), kilograms on food packaging, liters for liquids and gas, kilometers for miles and speed, and English is not their primary language.

What is the difference between the US and metric scales? Some of our friends who moved to Israel 30 years ago still struggle with metric. I was given a tip from a US trained architect working in Israel. She said, “Remember every 12″=30cm.” Suddenly I could master the puzzle, for example 2′-6″=75cm (table height). I now see metric as a system which makes sense. I tried to explain to an Israeli how inches/feet works, “You need to divide by 12 then there is a little extra, for example 15″, is 1′-3″,” I sounded like an idiot. We in the US are a funny lot, it never occurs to us there could be a better way. We expect everyone we meet to speak English, act and think like we do.

Being bilingual in scale is key to fluid design communication. It’s like talking to a deer in the headlights when explaining dimensions in metric to my American clients. Everything from; how large the home is, (measured in square meters), room, furniture and appliance dimensions, ceiling heights, etc., all need to be calculated and accounted for.

How did I handle this challenge? I found trained designers in Israel, willing to work with me on devising a system, where we could draft the plans on the computer in both US and metric scale. It’s been an amazing process, and we have learned much from each other. Now when plans are printed in the US it measures in US standards, when printed in Israel it prints in metric scale. I also have the same plans labeled in both metric and feet regardless of the scale in which it’s formatted.

US methods of drawing plans are different from Israel. The US plans seem cleaner and easier to read than the Israeli plans. Most Israeli trades love seeing the US version. When I met with an electrician and showed him the dual language of scale on a plan, he looked at me like it was a miracle. Until then, US designers working on projects in Israel from the US had drafted the plans in US standards and the Israeli trades had to convert the measures back into metric.

My logo is on a tape measure which measures both inches and metric and I give them away. The Israeli trades and my American clients love them. They can finally speak the same language, open up the tape and it says both 2′-0″ and 60cm!

I laugh everyday, each side is curious about “the other”; I’m happy to be the interpreter.