Last edited 13 Apr 2018

Space planning

Space planning is an important part of building design and is used to determine how a space (or spaces) should be laid out and used. It may be undertaken as part of the building design process, or as a stand alone exercise looking at how best to plan an existing space, or a space that is being developed (for example, a tenant determining how to fit out their part of a new development). It can be used for very simple spaces such as hotel bedrooms, through to very complex industrial buildings.

Good space planning can improve the wellbeing and productivity of the occupants of a space.

Designers will consult with the client to clarify their requirements for the space before starting planning (and perhaps assess existing spaces), typically by considering issues such as:

  • Budget and time constraints.
  • The separation of activities into zones.
  • The intended use/s of the space.
  • The number of occupants.
  • The space required per occupant.
  • The main focal points of the space.
  • The need for or availability of windows and doors.
  • Access into and from the space, and the function of adjacent spaces.
  • Circulation within the space.
  • Access and use of the space for people with disabilities.
  • The requirement for furniture, fixtures and fittings.
  • The number of people who are likely to use the space.
  • Whether the space should be balanced and symmetrical, unbalanced or a combination.
  • Security, safety and privacy.
  • Legislative requirements.
  • Lighting IT and other building services requirements.
  • Energy targets and sustainability requirements.
  • Environmental requirements, such as noise, lighting, ventilation, temperature and so on.
  • Environmental controls.
  • Welfare facilities.
  • Views.
  • Colours and branding.
  • Planting.
  • The need for flexibility or future growth.

Once considerations such as those listed above have been resolved, a space plan can be created.

There are various techniques that can be used to create a space plan. A common early technique is the ‘bubble plan’. This involves drawing a plan of the space and using ‘bubbles’, or circles, to roughly delineate the various activities that will take place, overlapping according to the relationship between them.

Once the activities have been defined and located in relation to one another, a more detailed scale plan can be drawn to show the layout of individual items within the space. This process can be carried out by hand, or with moveable paper cut outs, or using space planning software such as computer aided design (CAD) software or building information modelling software (BIM).

Parametric modelling can simplify space planning by allowing the automatic application of pre-defined rules to the entire space. So for example if a colour scheme for particular part of the space is changed, every object that has that colour attribute will also change. Other parameters might include; positional data, dimensions, algorithms describing form and so on.

In particularly complex spaces, techniques such as space syntax can allow the relationships between spatial layout and human behaviour to be simulated and investigated in detail. This might be useful for example in the design of a station where a great number of conflicting uses occupy the same space.

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