Buildings are inherently complex with many moving parts and systems which allow your structure to function properly. However, function can be addressed in a variety of ways.
The most important functional aspect of a building is the spatial function. Spatial function is the size, shape, proportion, orientation, and relationship of the spaces to serve the intended purpose. This type of functionality is one of the biggest misses among draftsman and building designers not properly trained in architecture. It’s not hard to design a space which is too large, awkward shaped, and no longer works. Good designers and architects are experts at manipulating space and balancing the building layout with the intended aesthetics and form of the structure. As an owner, be sure you remain extremely critical of room sizes and shapes.
Laying out the Furniture
One of the first things we do when starting a design is place furniture and cabinetry. Furniture helps establish the scale and layout of rooms and helps test the function of the space. The furniture helps identify focal points and circulation paths which are essential to properly functioning space. Cabinetry encloses space and feels like a solid element. It is important to know early on how such large solid elements relate to the circulation and other components such as windows and doors.
Scale and Proportion
In the case of spatial functionality scale and proportion are essential. Believe it or not a room can be too large, even with the current buzz around “open concept.” Rooms with too much space not only increase cost but can leave huge, dead, useless corners only occupied by the seasonal Christmas tree. Nothing can waste or make space like room proportion. There are pros and cons related to different room shapes. The squarer a space the larger it feels and can make it difficult to layout furniture and create a focal point. While long rectangular spaces feel smaller they create a single focal direction and makes it easier to define space with furniture.
Relationship of Space
When creating spatial relationships, it is important to know how the space will be used in different scenarios. Always imagine how you want to experience the room when using it. For example, when creating a mud room between the garage and the house visualize the functionality of a drop zone. The kids jump out of the car, run in the house, kick off their shoes, book bags, etc. Try to picture the cabinetry which will be needed. Should there be a washer and dryer nearby?
Another example, think of a breakfast nook. Should there be lots of windows facing east to oversee the sunrise, creating a great place to enjoy your morning coffee? You get the idea. There are a lot of things to consider when laying out space.
In addition to scale, proportion, furniture layout and spatial relationships there is also building orientation, day-lighting, acoustics, and privacy to consider. Knowing the Sun’s positions and building orientation will dictate comfort levels at different times of the day. When considering acoustics, rooms adjacent to noisy areas such as laundry or mechanical rooms require sound batts and resilient channels to reduce noise transmission. While rooms with many windows may require privacy considerations such as orienting the rooms away from busy streets.
Knowing the function of a space can help you be critical when looking at a design. Imagine yourself in the space and how it will be used. Understanding how you move throughout a space and understanding the furniture layout, will clue you in to how well the room can perform.