An Innovative Approach To Space Planning And Design

An understanding of the use and allocation of space is a cornerstone in the many design disciplines that shape our built environment today. Knowledge of space planning and programming are essential tools in conceiving a successful project. Programming and space planning, once considered "pre-design" services by architects, have now taken their roles as an integral part of the entire design process; from conception of the project right through to the analysis of how the occupants use the new facility.

Our built environment is no longer shaped by the master architect as much as it is by collaborative teams of specialists working together and contributing their own expertise and experience. The increasing specialization of design disciplines has been a response to the increasing sophistication of our buildings, and the activities and people that inhabit them.

Design firms and individual design practitioners often build reputations based upon individual building types; museums, sports arenas, and hospitals among them. Large design services firms increasingly organize groups of experts into practice groups for retail, hotels, and office buildings. So it is with the practice of space planning and programming. Space planning, programming and interior design professionals not only are recognized as having unique skills and experience, but have developed specialized practice areas for university and educational facilities, laboratories, and hotels as well as the office and residential areas of practice.

Space planning and programming have certainly become a recognized area of expertise essential to the design process. When a client seeks to build a new college, for example, the team most likely includes a professional space planner with educational experience and expertise.The evidence of this specialization is apparent. Today, there are entire design practices built upon the specialized skills required to undertake the programming and space planning for colleges and higher education facilities.

The specialization of separate expertise for space planning is enabled by the quantum leap in our ability to electronically transmit, store, and analyze data, drawings, and design documents. Any individual facility can be "benchmarked" against several others of the same use. In the competitive commercial real estate markets of the world's urban centers, it is not only the interior design and level of finish and furnishings that determine the rent or "leaseability" of office space. The allocation of space within the structure itself and proportion of the gross to net areas that influence price are large factors in determining the competitive advantage integral to the building.

In the post-industrial era, where companies provide services but do not manufacture products, the cost of premises is the largest expenditure, second only to payroll. In this regard, the efficient use of space for a business has a significant impact on profitability.

In addition to the obvious commercial advantage of the best, most efficient use of space, space planning is often used to promote or discourage interaction among building occupants. Plans for laboratory research buildings include areas intended to promote casual interaction between researchers in different fields; for example, the chemist has the opportunity to talk informally with the botanist over coffee in the lounge that connects their respective laboratories. In this way, the space plan promotes the interaction of scientists in different fields and enhances research or product development. Conversely, in the design of a new embassy, space planning is one of the design tools which can be used to provide additional security. Adjacencies between secure and non-secure areas are carefully located to discourage the casual exchange of information.

As our ability to share program and design information electronically continues to grow, clients and architects will seek the services of those with the best expertise for the project, regardless of the geographic location of the project team and specialized consultants. While programming and space planning has historically been associated with the design process aligned with architects and engineers, we are finding that large consulting firms are offering these same services to corporate clients. It is not uncommon now to find a project program and space layout formulated by the same firm that provides the project pro forma financial analysis and financing. Additionally, we find that owners frequently commission space planners and programmers prior to hiring an architect and other design professionals. This pre-design service is key to setting the parameters for a successful design.

Bill Stinger

Senior Principal (HOK)

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