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Last edited 18 Sep 2019
Open plan and cellular
Open plan and cellular are opposite terms used to describe the internal layouts of buildings. The former is a relatively modern phenomenon while the latter is associated with traditional construction.
Open plan describes a plan arrangement that is characterised by an almost complete lack of internal partitions within the structural confines of a building. This means there may be no physical or visual boundaries to delineate the various functional areas such as kitchens, living rooms, dining areas and bedrooms. In the case of bedrooms, they may be part of the general open space or hidden by a screen or even partitioned off completely. Bathrooms and toilets are necessarily partitioned but are usually situated at one end of the plan or in a corner so as not to interrupt the flow of space. A flat or house where living room, dining room and kitchen form one space (irrespective of whether bedrooms are, or are not, separate rooms) will be perceived as open plan.
Keeping the use of partitions to an absolute minimum, the visual effect of open plan is of a space that can appear larger than if walls had enclosed the various functional areas. The effect was particularly popular with Modern architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, Aalto and Kahn, and is still popular with contemporary architects such as Foster, Rogers and Hadid. These architects have exploited the spatial effects that open plan can create, particularly the feeling of lightness and airiness. As a result, open plan layouts have become popular with self-builders and those extending their homes. They have also started to inform the public imagination.
Contemporary offices tend to be open plan. Employees work in large open areas with separating walls used only to enclose toilets, kitchens, lift shafts, stairs and fire-protected areas. Such communal workspaces may help to foster better team spirit but they lack privacy and allow management to more easily monitor their employees.
Cellular plan layouts are a traditional form of spatial arrangement. They are characterised by the use of walls and partitions to enclose the various spaces and so result in cell-like arrangements. In homes, this results in the creation of different rooms such as bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens etc which can sometimes be small or ‘pokey’ depending on the space available. In a commercial environment, a cellular layout is one where more staff have their own office.
Historically, cellular arrangements were necessitated by the limitations of construction materials and techniques. When floor spans were smaller than those of today, numerous internal walls were necessary to provide support to the floor above.
However, the introduction of steel and concrete have allowed longer, uninterrupted spans that can eliminate the use of internal walls and columns. This has brought opportunities to create open-plan interiors and has seen the decline of cellular layouts in office buildings. The process has been helped by fashion, democratisation of the workplace (‘flatter’ organisational structures) and theories of employee wellbeing.
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