What’s in a “room”? A supposedly basic and elementary term for defining a space, you’d think. As architecture students, you’ll be designing a lot of rooms for your projects. Sounds simple enough – group together some blobs and squares to fit the form you want.
But as you’ll find out, doing so isn’t as trivial as most people think.
A good designer knows that a whole lot of careful thought should be put into each space, considering factors that relate to human psyche, anthropometrics, technology, energy-efficiency, cost-efficiency, comfort, beauty, engineering, and a whole lot of other synthesize-able things.
Don’t believe me? Well then, allow me to give you a few examples of things you might consider when designing individual spaces.
This first post will contain some 20 considerations, and succeeding posts will continue this chain – in hopes of providing you with a more holistic checklist while planning out your spaces.
1. Is it large enough to be habitable?
Different building codes have different minimum space requirements for habitable rooms. The National Building Code of the Philippines this has this at a minimum of 6 square meters, with a minimum dimension of 2 meters.
Remember that habitable rooms are rooms where people stay and dwell. Having storage and utility rooms that are less than 6 square meters are A-okay.
2. How enclosed is it?
Speaking loosely, don’t be limited in your conception of a “room” being completely enclosed. Our minds can infer semi-enclosed and interstitial spaces, forming invisible boundaries.
The number of planes that enclose your room means different things for privacy, human interaction, and can help or hinder your intended experience.
A compartmentalized living, dining and kitchen area are more segmented and private, but having a shared one expresses a more social and interaction-friendly group of spaces.
Or imagine a living area adjoining a covered pattern by means of a sliding screen. When the screens are open, the semi-enclosed room could the user register a larger leisure space that extends all the way to the surrounding garden.
Four walls don’t define a space. Don’t be limited as such.
3. Is the shape apt for its purpose?
A shape of a room can’t just be a residual afterthought of your building form. Mismatching building use and natural geometric tendencies can result in disorienting, functionally compromised spaces.
Be aware of what a shape can tell you.
A circular room will direct focus to the center. A rectangle stresses the dichotomy of the ends. A square is flexible, equidistant, and a predictable efficient work area. A triangle creates tension points (and sometimes awkward, underutilized spaces), and a semi-circle has the focal point as an ideal place for speakers to address and audience.
So why is your roomed shaped as such?
4. Is there going to be a change of levels?
A common mistake with beginning designers is that they think primarily in 2D, on a flat sheet, moving around bubbles on a schematic floor plan.
Once you start to develop your scheme, you’ll realize that there might be needed changes in levels that will affect your building’s design, and can be a headache to rectify if not caught early.
Putting an auditorium on a higher floor? Don’t forget that a typical proscenium set-up will have the floor sloping down to the stage. The depth of this can be quite deep especially if you’ve got a large number of seating rows.
Or perhaps on a smaller scale, maybe the site’s topography necessitates that you have a couple of steps distributed along the length of a large display area. Be careful about how you distribute and treat the steps – they can be tripping hazards, especially in low light contexts.
That, and don’t neglect the fact that you are probably going to need ramps – both for PWDs and trolleys that will transfer exhibit materials.
5. How high does the ceiling need to be?
Related also to changes in levels, there’s a lot to think about with your ceiling profile. I discussed in #34 of 36 Things You MUST Consider When Designing Your Project, I gave an overview of the different things going on under a dropped ceiling. Now I’m going to strengthen again why you should be wary of “minimum” heights required.
In addition to minimal ceiling height provisions, your local code will probably have an air space requirement – which is a volume allocation for each user in a room. And this volume allocation tends to vary according to the use and density.
It protects your users from breathing used air so often, and feeling too constricted and anxious. Air exchanges (In which CO2 rich interior air is replaced by fresh outside air) are very important for health and well-being.
So say the requirement for your room type is 3 cubic meter person, with a ground dimension of 1m x 1m. Doing the simple math, you can see that you’re going to need dimensions of 1m x 1m x3m to achieve the 3 cubic meters required.
Be aware of this, especially when you’re designing a high density room.
6. Surge area space?
Speaking of a high density room, your thinking efforts shouldn’t only be limited to what’s going on inside the room, but also immediately outside it.
Sure, you might have this fantastic acoustical marvel of a multi-purpose hall space that you designed, but if users will surge out into an inhumanely narrow corridor after functions, you’ve got a big problem on your hands.
Always consider the possible need for surge areas like lobbies to provide relief from funnel and bottlenecks (which are compromise safety during fires and other disasters too, btw). Otherwise you will be cursed on a daily basis by sardine-like occupants.
7. What is the view from your openings?
Sure, you might have a brilliant triple-glazed glass wall that makes your 3D model look impressively high-tech, but if all it actually faces is a bare firewall, you’ve made a boo-boo.
For such a small amount of utility, you’ll be making your client spend an ungodly amount of money. That side of your lot probably should have been a service corridor instead.
Some people design their building forms via 3D models, from the outside-looking in, thinking of the context as a blank slate.
In truth, you should be very much concerned about looking at your building from the inside going out. Identify the great visual amenities visible from site and be sure to give occupants the pleasure of viewing them.
The views from your site are unique. No other location in the world will have the same vantage point of that lovely cherry tree, or the city monument, or the heritage building in your town.
Don’t miss up the opportunity to take advantage of them.
8. Are your fenestrations centered, random, or patterned?
fenestration. the arrangement of windows and doors on the elevations of a building.
Are your fenestrations centered? random? patterned? It’s good practice to keep an alignment concept for each project.
Young design students tend not to think about how they align their elements. They think, “Okay, i’ll put my windows in this room like so”, and on another floor “Okay, this room is bigger so I’ll put as many windows here”, and wing it as they go.
I’m almost willing to bet that when they take a step back to view the entire building, the windows on the different floors will be off center, disorganized, causing the aesthetic value of the architecture to degenerate to that of a hodgepodge.
The thing is, the way you organize your fenestrations in relation to each other tells a lot about your skill as an architect – it’s self-evident in how put-together your facade is.
Always remember that your building is a composition of all its parts. Even things like alignments of doors, windows, and ledges tie into the image of the whole.
9. How does the light shine into the room?
Fenestrations don’t only frame views, or express rhythm along the facade, but the light they allow to enter can accent the interior space.
Take the image above as an example – it’s a case study of slit window placement (the tall and thin kind that makes light enter as a long line). Notice that the two different placements cause different things to happen in relation to the bed.
The image on the left makes the light run onto the bed, and presumably a sleeping user who might not appreciate the morning heat.
The one on the right theoretically provides minimal heat rays, while at the same time accents the definition of the bed space in an artistic manner.
So yes, you have to cross-check your window’s exterior alignment with its actual ramifications to the interior layout. Put an east facing window that directly shines of your television and you can expect that its electronic life span won’t be as long as it should be.
10. Is the size of your openings adequate by law?
Building codes tend to prescribe minimum percentages for window areas for rooms, to help ensure enough natural light enters.
If you’re required by code provisions to have at least 10% of your room’s wall area to be windows, it’s always a good idea to allocate more, should we say, breathing space? Literally.
11. Where will your windows be mounted?
This is a bit more technical take on windows, but it’s always good to think of construction ramifications for your design elements.
Windows will have to be mounted somewhere. Sliding windows will need guide rails. Pocket sliding windows will need, well, a pocket that they can slide into. If the way you plan out your fenestrations isn’t careful, you could be . Not good practice, brah.
For instance, along one wall, you might have three windows aligned at different heights, spaced very close together. Think about that would entail in segmenting the lintel beams on which they would rest. Wouldn’t it make more sense to align them to simplify construction into one longer lintel beam?
12. Is there enough storage?
Sometimes you’re too caught up with the beauty of the interior and exterior aesthetics that you forget to integrate the human propensity for item collection.
That’s a complicated way of saying that you forgot to provide enough storage areas within the room.
People will tend to need some storage in every single kind of room. From offices, bathrooms, yoga studios, commercial establishments, and yes, storage rooms themselves.
Don’t forget to determine what kind of things will need to be stored in your space.
Art studios might need a niche for easels. Architectural offices will need hangers or boxes for old 30×40 size sheets. Bedrooms are typically provided with clothing cabinets, side table storage, and working table storage.
Be sensitive, and allocate space accordingly.
13. How does the door swing?
Ah yes. The door. Much like how they give us insight on the space beyond the leaf, how you place your doors in relation to the room also gives insight on your care as a designer.
In general, it’s always more comfortable to swing along the direction of travel. Entrances swing inwards, exits swing outwards. Sounds simple enough.
But what if a room only has one door that serves as both entrance and exit? Then you have to consider a number of factors.
If swinging outwards would mean cutting largely into a corridor, then maybe swinging it inwards would be better. However, certain fire codes require that the single door must swing outward for rooms reaching a certain occupant load.
What to do then? Maybe you can recess or inset the wall a bit so the outward swing will be flush with the extents of circulation.
How does your bathroom door swing? In my book, the only reason it should ever swing outwards is if doing it inwards would hit a fixture. Otherwise, if you were to accidentally leave it unlocked, there would be no way to stop it from opening while sitting on the john.
Remember, even something like the swing of your door is a significant determinant in how your occupants first “unravel” the space, feel secure in it, and safely and conveniently exit it.
14. Does the door even have to swing?
Speaking of “unraveling” a space. Don’t limit yourself with the conception that all doors must be swing doors.
In truth, depending on your needs and intent. There’s a lot you can do with picking the right door mechanism.
Sliding doors are space saving, and can allow the users to feel like they’re unwrapping a space rather than “entering” it in the conventional sense. The sensation of sliding a door is different from turning a knob and moving “into” a room.
Accordion doors are typically used as dividers of larger spaces. Putting a strategically placed accordion in the middle of a large span room can allow two different groups to use it, and eventually merge together after.
Garage doors (the ones that slide upwards) can actually be quite dramatic, especially if they are automatic. Imagine a rich sir seeking to show-off his new Ferrari that’s displayed in his garage. With a push of a button, the horizon lifts and the whole reveal becomes more artistic.
15. Is the door large enough?
Your swing might be well-planned, the construction might be solid, the jointing picturesque, but if your door isn’t the right size, things could get confusing or uncomfortable.
There’s a bit of a hierarchy of door sizes, which unknowingly allows people to determine what space is behind the leaf. You might not even be aware of this psychological coaxing.
Let’s take the door sizes in a typical house as an example.
The main door is normally the largest and most decorated, because it’s a gesture of welcome and arrival. Let’s say it’s 1 meter wide.
Next up in the hierarchy are the doors to the dwelling soaces, like bedrooms). You don’t want them to taint the main door’s uniqueness, and at the same time
Service doors like that of bathrooms will be even smaller. Say, 800 mm at most. Making them smaller not only differentiates them from the doors of the dwelling rooms, but also keeps them from bumping into the counter if it swings inward. Bathrooms can be tight, guys.
However, be mindful that the kitchen door (which does fall under service) has to be larger than other service doors, because of the large things you normally carry into it – and also due to it’s nature as the secondary entrance/exit of the home.
As a general guideline, always ask yourself what and who will be passing through the door, and whether the size differentiation can be used as a visual cue.
16. How is your door aligned to other doors in its vicinity?
Again we’re talking about thoughtful alignment, which – if you haven’t noticed yet, is an aspect many young designers don’t pay much attention to.
You should never look at an architectural element as an island – always zoom out and consider the entire composition.
In the case of doors, the way you choose to align them throughout a project not only gives your work polish, but it’s also important to prevent awkward spaces and interactions.
In a corridor where there are rooms on both sides (especially in residential condominiums), it’s good practice not to have doors across the corridor face each other. Even worse is to have them overlap.
The result is a sort-of-facing but not quite interstitial space that is awkward to view and run by. It’s just bothersome psychologically, and it’s even one of those Feng Shui violations.
17. Will it have its own panel board?
Some rooms or units are lease-able by nature, which necessitates its own type of individual power control. This is in order for a tenant to easily cut and bring back power upon and after use. It’s a safety and power saving consideration.
With this in mind, things like condo units and lease-able commercial units tend to have electrical panel boards placed.
I’m telling you this because as architects, you need to locate them wisely so they aren’t an eyesore, and don’t interfere with things like door swings.
When you plan out your room, consider also how you will treat the unit’s panel board to be in harmony with your intent. Nobody wants to see a beautifully done natural wood ambiance spoiled by a neon green panel board in the corner.
18. Is the floor meant to be sat on, or walked on with bare feet?
The materiality of a space is key in providing users with a very rich experience, especially if it entails direct contact with the elements that surround them.
There’s truly a deeper sensation from feeling the give of a natural wood flooring as compared to a cheap glossy tile. The former has more “give”, and can even have a mild scent as you traverse it, while the latter might be rigid and uncompromising. Though naturally, it is a matter of perspective.
My main point is to ensure that you consider how actually touching your flooring with bare skin affects how people will feel.
Feet on bush-hammered concrete will feel more raw, bare, rough, and warm. This can be good if you don’t want users to slip, but it’s not the best material for your children to sit down on for long periods of time. It’s worlds away from the softness of a fuzzy carpet.
If people are going to be sitting down on your floor, be sure you considered their comfort in when you specify the finish.
19. Is the wall meant to be leaned on, admired from afar, or experienced by touching?
Similar to how materiality of the ground plane (which we are always in contact with) affects greatly the intimacy of an architectural experience, you should also pay attention to the materiality of your room’s walls.
For most people, walls are more of a visual consideration. We don’t go around will our hands constantly on the walls – unless you are visually impaired, which is a complex design consideration in itself.
How you treat the different wall planes in your room will be like the dynamics of colors on a canvas. They can be contrasting, similar, of the same family but of different strokes, or of different texture scales. What’s important is the end product is that of harmony (or discord, if your intent is to disorient the users).
You can be overly-articulated and complex, or show the poetry in simplicity and unity. Just ensure that how you treat them takes into consideration the sensations of touch, sight, and even smell.
In an enclosed space, wall divisions play a big role in what we take away from the spatial experience. Close your eyes, visualize, and determine what would be most apt to get your intended effect.
20. What will people do in my room?
Lastly, as a take-off point to “Pointers for Designing an Awesome Room – Part 2”, the fundamental question you should be familiar with is what exactly your room is for.
What is its purpose in life?
Some rooms are for relaxing, closing your eyes, and distancing yourself from the world.
Others are hubs for interaction, and require an environment conducive to discussion and face-to-face activity.
Is it fast (for circulation) or slow (for dwelling)? Some spaces are for staying for long periods of time, while others are meant to be gateways to other slower rooms.
A room for sports will entail a lot of movement, sweat, breathing, and icky smells.
All these things have major ramifications that you must consider in all the little systems and intricacies that make up each inch of your room.
Like what, exactly? Let’s zoom in to these finer strokes in the next installment of the series.
We’re just getting started, folks. Keep your notebooks ready; there’s a whole lot more to consider in the “simple” task of designing a room. A whole lot more.
Stay hungry, and keep learning.