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What system of measurement do you think in?

A couple of years ago, an architect friend of mine from Chicago (who was in town for work) told me that when it comes to units of measurement the building industry in Toronto is schizophrenic. She basically said, sometimes you use the international system (metres) and sometimes you use customary units (feet).

And this is absolutely the truth. We are constantly switching back and forth between the two. The drawings that go into the city are in metres and millimetres, but the drawings that get shown to prospective renters and buyers are in feet and inches. We’ll say that the Tall Building Design Guidelines stipulate that towers should be 25 metres apart, but then in the next sentence say that we’re going to need a 24 inch transfer slab. 

This kind of measurement bilingualism is so common that I bet some of you have cheat sheets with common conversion factors posted up at your desk. It probably includes things like: 1 square metre = 10.76 square feet.

Over the years though, I have found myself naturally drifting more and more towards metres and millimetres. So much so that when people throw out inches in a meeting, I’ll now sometimes ask them what it is in millimetres: “Wait, how thick does the slab need to be?” A lot of this has to do with the fact that all city planning documents are in metres. So it’s simply more efficient to stick with one system of measurement and avoid constantly converting back and forth.

That said, there are still lots of people who prefer feet and inches (particularly in my industry) and many instances where I default to thinking in customary units. I’m 6 foot 3, not 1905 mm. But, I am ready to go all in with the international system. I think it would make life simpler and more efficient. After all, it is called the international system.

What system of measurement do you think in?

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