Space Planning Basics

Introduction

 

Space planning is a complex process with many factors to consider. The principles of space planning involve satisfying a defined criteria on a priority basis – as a result, space planning is frequently about compromise. That being said, there is often more than one solution to planning out the space requirements of a building.

Knowing how to organise spaces in carefully considered configurations is a fundamental skill that both architecture students and architects need to possess and be constantly developing. We design spaces for users to inhabit and interact with, so it is of utmost importance that they effectively serve the purpose that they were intended for.

The principles behind space planning are also applied in other disciplines such as interior design, urban planning, landscape architecture, event planning, and retail design. Whether it be arranging furniture in a room or in a banquet hall, the primary goal is to ensure that the space can be effectively utilised and is tailored to meet the needs of its users.

How two spaces come together or split apart all becomes very important in determining the overall comfort and experience users have within the spaces we design.

In this post we look at some of the key processes to space planning, the questions you need to ask your client, and yourself, and how to develop this information into space planning diagrams.

Scroll to the end to download this article as a handy PDF guide!

Part 1 – Collect information

The design of a building or space will have numerous requirements from the client or the end user. It is important in the very early stages of design to carry out in depth research and consider as many aspects of the use of the spaces as possible.

Some considerations can include:

  • Do the spaces have specific functions or need to be particular shapes or forms?
  • Do the spaces need to be flexible?
  • Is it possible to create a sequence of spaces (offices, museums for example)?
  • Do the spaces have different requirements in terms of light, ventilation, views, accessibility?
  • Do the spaces need to have access to external spaces?
  • Must any of the spaces have particular security or privacy?
  • Are there any hierarchical requirements of the spaces?
  • What relationships must each space have with one another, and the external environment?
  • How should the spaces be connected?
  • Which rooms need to be adjacent to one another and which rooms need to be apart?

 

An example of some questions to consider if you are designing a residential unit:

  • What is the family size and structure?
  • What is the location of the site?
  • How many levels are there?
  • Are there any particular family or individual interests and activities that need to be considered?

 

The more information and data that can be collected in these earlier stages, the easier it will be to make the leap from data to diagrams and drawings as you proceed through the space planning process.

Part 2 – Interpret requirements and build the brief

When we look at how to create spaces and accommodate humans in those spaces we can consider some universal concepts relating to how people interact with their environments.

Insider vs outsider
Invitation vs rejection
Individual vs community
Combination vs dispersion
Openness vs enclosure
Integration vs segregation

Insider vs Outsider
Combination vs Dispersion
Invitation vs Rejection
Openness vs Enclosure
Individual vs Community
Integration vs Segregation

With these factors in mind we can start to develop a plan of requirements and extract from the data we have collected, the necessary functions these spaces will be fulfilling.

In some cases it is suitable to develop a matrix/table that demonstrates the requirements of each room, in terms of privacy, daylight, access, equipment and so forth, along with writing out any additional requirements or special considerations for each room. This information will be a useful reference as you work through the spaces of each room and start to develop some sketch diagrams.

All of this information will then be useful to include in your brief for the project.

To help you ask the right questions and build a comprehensive brief we have curated a free Architectural Design Brief Checklist. Make sure you download and give it a read:
Architectural Design Brief – The Checklist

Part 3 – Consider spaces and spatial relationships

There are numerous ways in which you can arrange spaces. The following are a few examples and prompts to get you started:

Spatial Relationships

How can spaces be related to one another?
Space within a space
Interlocking spaces
Spaces linked by a common space
Adjacent spaces

spatial relationship

Organising the space

You can consider varying forms of spatial organisation, some of which are more naturally suited to particular uses than others:
Centralised organisation
Linear organisation
Radial organisation
Clustered organisation
Grid organisation

spatial organisation

Consider some of the following as you plan out your spaces:

  • How does the envelope affect the internal spaces?
  • How will the contents of the room be arranged?
  • Do the rooms connect?
  • What is the flow of the circulation?
  • What are the main points of access into the space you are designing?
  • Are the proportions of the spaces comfortable?
  • Are there any existing structures or features within the building or space that you may have to work around?

Developing circulation

How people move around the building from room to room is just as important as the destination.
When developing a circulation structure we can look at a few basic principles:

  • How efficient is the circulation in getting from point A to point B?
  • Is the circulation discrete?
  • What is the fluidity of the circulation? Is there a smooth flowing route or a more direct route?
  • Does the circulation route clash with furnishing requirements?
  • Can the circulation be the focal point of the design?
circulation

You can also draw inspiration from already existing precedents to organise your spaces and test how they relate to one another to provide the best circulation throughout the design.

Part 4 – Create the solution

Once the spaces have been considered and the requirements have been studied it is time to start sketching out spatial relationship diagrams that are also known as bubble diagrams or adjacency diagrams in architecture.

In a bubble diagram you make use of a variety of bubbles that depict the spaces as well as arrows and lines that depict connections and relationships between the spaces you are working with.

You can quickly produce these diagrams in rough sketchy styles to take to a client meeting or create them in more refined styles for say, a final presentation.

These types of diagrams take your design from data to a more visual look at physically planning out your space. It is abstract, and rough but enables you to develop your understanding of the requirements and visualise how the spaces will work together and how the circulation may flow between them.

At this stage the bubble diagrams do not need to represent the building size or space, but more so provide a look at how each room relates to one another, sizes and so on. Let’s look at some examples:

spatial relationship sketch 1
spatial relationship sketch 2

As your bubble diagrams develop you can begin to build a rough sketch plan of your spaces. This developed bubble diagram helps you make the connection between basic spatial requirements and a fully drafted floor plan. It is essentially a trial and error method of exploring the configuration options.

If you are working within the constraints of an existing building you can print out the floor plan and work within that. However, if you are designing a new building the bubble diagram can often be connected with your concept and site analysis to develop the design.

During this process it is important to keep referring back to the initial data you collected and the bubble diagram to ensure you are considering all aspects of the design requirements. It is also important to update your clients and perhaps even involve them in this process to confirm everyone is on the same page and that you are working out the best possible outcome for them.

This is an opportunity to try both safe and standard ideas along with more erratic out of the box options as you are carrying out fast sketchy ideas.

We recommend you try different options and configurations, sketch your ideas and see how the spaces will connect to one another. As you work through the different options, make notes on each one as to any pros and cons, benefits etc, so that later you can easily disregard options that you don’t think will work at a later point.

Here are some examples:

As your bubble diagrams develop you can begin to build a rough sketch plan of your spaces. This developed bubble diagram helps you make the connection between basic spatial requirements and a fully drafted floor plan. It is essentially a trial and error method of exploring the configuration options. </p>
<p>If you are working within the constraints of an existing building you can print out the floor plan and work within that. However, if you are designing a new building the bubble diagram can often be connected with your concept and site analysis to develop the design. </p>
<p>During this process it is important to keep referring back to the initial data you collected and the bubble diagram to ensure you are considering all aspects of the design requirements. It is also important to update your clients and perhaps even involve them in this process to confirm everyone is on the same page and that you are working out the best possible outcome for them.</p>
<p>This is an opportunity to try both safe and standard ideas along with more erratic out of the box options as you are carrying out fast sketchy ideas. </p>
<p>We recommend you try different options and configurations, sketch your ideas and see how the spaces will connect to one another. As you work through the different options, make notes on each one as to any pros and cons, benefits etc, so that later you can easily disregard options that you don’t think will work at a later point. </p>
<p>Here are some examples:<br />
bubble diagram 2

At this point it is often useful to have a general idea of size requirements of certain areas. For example, in a residential house, it is useful to know a rough size of a double bedroom, or an average living room size in order to start making sense of the spaces. Books like The Metric Handbook Planning and Design Data by Littlefield and Neufert Architects Data are a great reference and contain stacks of data that would start you off in the right direction. (See the end of this article for recommended reading).

We have also got a series of blog posts on Metric Data which include standard sizes and dimensions of people, furniture, doors, and more. These sets are also available as CAD files that you can purchase.

Simply click on the link below or type ‘Metric Data’ on our search bar and you should see them all.
Metric data – First In Architecture

If you wish to purchase them all in one go, here is the link:
FIA Full CAD Block Set

 

Full CAD Block Set

With all of this information, you can almost build yourself a small library of ‘rule of thumb’ plans that you can refer to in order to speed up your space planning.

This image below is a quick summary of this process of space planning:

Summary diagram

Part 5 – Review and revise your space planning

Once some solutions have been sketched out, it is then possible to review these solutions and look for areas that require improvement.

Things to consider when we look at a residential scheme:

  • How will the occupants move from room to room?
  • Does the circulation cut up the space?
  • Does guest traffic flow through private areas?
  • Are the doors and windows in suitable positions? Do they interfere or add to the overall spatial plan?
  • Does the plan orientate itself correctly with the site?
  • Do the rooms work well in relation to one another?
  • Is there a need for clear zones such as distinctions between wet and dry areas, cooking and dining areas?
  • Have you accounted for space taken up by the services and utilities?

Once you have reviewed your initial sketches and ideas the plans can be developed further by adding more detail and refining your drawings. It is key to refer to any building regulations, codes and standards like fire safety among crucial others that will have an impact on your space planning to ensure that your design is compliant from an early stage.

Helpful links

 

There is so much more to space planning than what we have touched on in this post and there are some truly inspiring ways people are presenting their ideas and findings.

We have set up a new Pinterest board that is full of space planning ideas and styles that will really help inspire you. Please check it out and follow the board! Or better still, follow all our boards!

 

If you would like further information, or would like to read into the subject of space planning in more depth we would highly recommend Space Planning Basics by Mark Karlen. You can check it out here:

Space Planning Basics

We have taken inspiration from some of the examples in Space Planning Basics in order to put together some of my sketches for this post.

Other recommended reading:

You might also be interested in:

 

We also have lots of incredible architecture content. Be sure to check it out:

The Architectural Design Brief - Checklist
The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Architectural Diagrams FI

Download the Guide!

Download this helpful article as a pdf to keep for reference later!

Conclusion

 

In summary, space planning is a crucial part of the architectural design process. It is more than just the arrangement of spaces, the aim is to ensure that you are creating functional spaces that offer the right experiences for your clients and end users. We as architects and designers need to be able to comprehend how people will move through, use as well as feel in the spaces we design for them.

Despite it seeming like a daunting task, space planning helps you iteratively produce creative solutions which will exercise your problem solving skills and help you design spaces that are thoughtful, functional and inclusive.

We hope this post helped you learn some cool things about space planning.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

 

This article contains affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Author

Written by Emma Walshaw, Architectural Technologist and founder of First In Architecture and Detail Library. Emma has written a number of books about construction and architectural detailing.

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8 Comments

  1. useful

    Reply
  2. Nice article! Keep up the good work and keep writing.

    Reply
  3. As a student working on assignments this provides useful Information in a layout that is easy to understand .

    Reply
  4. Very practical teaching aide. I have enjoyed the presentation.

    Reply
    • Thank you 🙂

      Reply
  5. Hello, I enjoyed your article. Do you work on residential interiors? I am looking for a space plan for a Victorian terrace home I have lived in for 17 years. My family and work life have changed a lot since I last “decorated” about ten years ago. I like your conceptual approach and I think you would be sensitive to the needs I am trying to address. I have plenty of room – just not sure how to use it fully and live in it more abundantly. thanks for your reply. For you, a simple assignment I think!

    Reply
    • Hello Kristen,
      I’m afraid we do not work on residential interior projects. Sorry we can’t be of more assistance. Best of luck with your project.
      Best regards,
      Emma

      Reply
  6. Hey, great article! But actually I’m still having a hard time understanding bubble diagram.
    May I know if the ‘loose’ bubble diagram configuration supposed to be translated exactly same (in terms of position) in the block diagram?
    And also for example, if I don’t do 2nd option of ‘loose’ bubble diagram I can still get a differencet configuration from the 1st option right?

    I don’t see the point of doing few iterations if we can get different configuration from 1 bubble diagram? Or am I not seeing the relation of bubble diagram to block diagram? or the use of it?

    Basically I don’t know what basis should I start to draw bubble diagram to make it make sense. I mean I can just straight away do block diagram without the relationship of bubble diagram right?

    Appreciate it if you can exaplan,im having a headache understanding from bubble diagram to block diagram(floor plan)

    Thank you!

    Reply

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