When anyone hears the word “architecture” or “architect”, only one word comes to mind. That word is design. The primary function of an architect is to design, and as we all know there are many stages that are taken in the design process before the final product is achieved (2D drawings, 3D drawings, models). In the preliminary stages of any architectural design, there are many things to consider like the site selection criteria, site location, orientation, concept development, zoning, bubble diagrams, space analysis and many more. There is also the specification stage where materials, finishing and construction methods are chosen. All these come together to form the lines drawn on paper (plans, elevations, sections) which will later on become a reality (building/structure). Neglecting any of these steps will have a drastic effect on any design or building. Today, I am going to highlight the 3 most neglected steps in design which are:
- Site Analysis
- Site Zoning
- Specification writing and Detailing
In the early stages of my training, I used to spend hours making sheets on site analysis and site zoning. I would make them as colorful as possible and draw many diagrams, but the truth was I did not know what half of those things meant. When I was presenting my drawings, I would just say “this is my site analysis showing the analysis of the site”. Thinking of it now makes me laugh honestly because that was just dumb, but towards my final year after doing much reading and going through courses like building climatology, I came to realize what those diagrams actually meant. I even challenged myself into choosing more complex sites as I reached my final year because I knew I could analyze them the right way and make designs that can fit right into the sites. So, how do you do a site analysis the right way? Below is a short guide on how to do a proper site analysis:
- Site analysis is done to analyze the existing features of any given site. It has 4 categories which are the geographical features, infrastructural features, climate features and vicinity features.
- All categories are to be described in detail. For example, geographical features include the sun path, trade wind directions, orientation, soil type, topography, vegetation, etc. you are to describe each of these in correspondence with your site of choice. These details might vary from different sites, therefore you and your friend using different sites may not have the same description.
- It is important to visit your site of choice to help you get more information about the site vicinity and existing infrastructure. For example, google map might show you the structures surrounding the site and those existing on it, but it surely will not give you any source of noise, footpaths, the main direction of wind, etc.
- As a student, you can create separate sheets dedicated to each category which will enhance the credibility of your work, while in practice you can explain the value of site visitation and its importance towards producing a better design for the client.
This is one the easiest yet most neglected steps in design. Zoning is all about knowing where to position certain spaces in a design based on some features that might affect the functionality of the space. These features are accessibility, noise, privacy, and security. Traditionally in training, we draw the shape of the site, include existing roads, and then zone them into 3 parts e.g. most accessible, semi accessible and less accessible, but there is much more to that when it comes to zoning. Zoning falls hand in hand with your bubble diagram. The application of these falls under of two types. There can be a site zoning or site bubble diagram and there is the zoning or bubble diagram for your building. Both are important but they are not the same. The zoning of your site will surely affect the zoning of the main building. For example, a nearby factory may affect your site zoning, which will may result in the positioning of some facilities (e.g. parking) in a certain way. Those facilities may not affect the zoning of your building as parking areas may generate unwanted noise. It is important to pay attention to these details as they can make or break your design.
Specification writing and detailing
I had to reach my final year before I learnt how to make details on my own. Yes, I admit it. It was one of the things I hated doing the most as a student, and if not for a course I took a few months ago during my first year in my master’s program, I think I would have hated it for life. Besides, what is the point of making details? I have never seen a drawing submitted to a client with details and those details being used during construction. What made me realize how important detailing and specification is, was a statement my lecturer once made. He said “What do think made Zaha Hadid or Norman Foster or Frank Gehry the best? Was it because they opened their construction textbooks and copied their roofing details or wall details? Or was it because they studied the existing ones carefully and built on them?”. He explained that details are creations of our own 3D imagination. It tells us how we want a certain member to look like and how that look would be achieved. Sure there are members that are likely to be the same in every design, for example, foundation footing or roof trusses, but sometimes these members can be fabricated to fulfill a certain purpose like insulation, finishing etc.
Specification writing and detailing go hand in hand as you need to specify the materials to be used and how they are going to be used. Lack of specification usually results in wrong choice of materials by someone who might not even have any knowledge of the matter. The wrong type of tiling in a bathroom can result to a person slipping which may lead to serious injury or even death. A simple tip for students on learning specification is to familiar with the materials around you. Know what type of flooring you are walking on, learn how it is made or fabricated, learn whether it is the best option for that specific location, and always ask questions.
It is particularly important to ensure you get all these things right because they highly affect the construction method, choice of materials and even the design as a whole. These are not only neglected by students, but it is quite common to see existing buildings around you that possess various problems not only as a structure but also affects the users of that building. Once the user is not satisfied, the building is considered to be poorly designed.
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