The Importance Of Space Design And Flow in Architectural Design


Never have we been made as aware of space and our proximity to one another as we have recently. This has been entirely thanks to COVID-19. Even as social distancing measures relax, the safety of space will likely remain at the forefront of everything we do. This will no doubt continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Effective space planning, however, is key to any architectural design, whether virus-related or not.

When it comes to implementing space planning into architectural settings, the reference point for many people is the kitchen work triangle or kitchen triangle rule. For those that don’t know, this is the idea that the oven/hob, fridge-freezer and sink are all within easy reach of one another (in the form of a rough triangle) to improve functionality and ease-of use within the space.

The reality, is that architecture features countless examples of this flow-influenced thinking, across a whole host of different industries and sectors. The team here at Munday + Cramer, who offer architectural design in Essex, Kent, London and the Home Counties, wanted to examine the concept in greater detail, and how it can be applied in practice.

What Is Space Planning In Architecture?

Before we do anything else, we need to define what this concept comprises. When architects consider the idea of space planning, they’re thinking about how the space can be best optimised for its particular purpose and for those who will be using it. This means ensuring that space is planned according to function first, with form factoring in afterward. There are several key principles and questions which are universal to space planning, regardless of the industry. These include:

  • Determining the space’s function and goals.
  • The number of occupants who will be using the space.
  • Any essential furnishings/furniture.
  • The space’s ‘zones’ for activities within the space.
  • Safety and privacy considerations.

Examples Of Different Sectors Implementing Space Planning

As we’ve established, then, the way in which a space is designed is very much contingent on what its use will be. Following this train of thought with any kind of logic would, therefore, indicate that different sectors (which serve different purposes) would lay out their space in differing ways. The following industries are all ones in which spatial planning forms a key component of their architectural design:

Education

Instilling ‘flow’ and a pre-conceived circulation within a space is difficult enough at the best of times. When you then factor in the additional chaos theory that schoolchildren bring with them, that task becomes much harder. Unfortunately, there’s still much work to be done in this sector, with only 5% of almost 60,000 schools being classed as operating efficiently in a study conducted by RIBA, back in 2016. RIBA also states that, in an educational environ, flexible spaces and an optimum level of visual interest are both key factors in creating a well-designed space. With that in mind, the following are all examples of how space planning can be utilised in educational architectural design:

The creation of collaborative and private working areas within classrooms

Areas which are separate enough to still be their own space, but which maintain easy access to one another. This enables students to easily filter between individual and group work, thus nurturing two separate but equally important study skills.

Therapeutic spaces

The implementation of therapeutic spaces within schools, for the sake of pupils’ emotional wellbeing is a more recent phenomenon. Over the past few years, the extent to which children and adolescents experience mental health problems has become startlingly apparent. This example of space planning forms part of a wider commitment to better pastoral standards being displayed by the education sector. These calm spaces are designed so that they feel safe and out of the way. They’re designed to feel like oases of calm in the tempestuous school setting.

Modular Furniture

Modular furniture/furnishings are a great way of combining space and storage. They also enable a room’s purpose to be moulded in different ways, as and when it’s needed. Having seats double up as storage boxes frees up currently wasted square footage reserved solely for that purpose. In turn, this creates a more spacious, temporal environment which feels dynamic, as all learning should. This sort of space planning helps break down the more rigid and traditional educational frameworks, and create more stimulating spaces, in their place.

Retail

Effective space planning is vital in retail environments, where the number of occupants at any one time can vary massively. It’s clear to see which shops have been designed with space planning in mind and which have not, purely by looking at bottlenecks and chokepoints on the shop floor during busy times. Some retail outlets, Ikea, for instance, take what may have once seemed like a more prescriptive approach to their space planning, by incorporating one way systems into their stores. Currently, however, it seems unlikely that any shops won’t have these systems in place, thanks to COVID-19.

Clothing Stores

The purpose of space planning in shops is to maximise the number of sales per square metre. In other words, to encourage buying. The degree to which this principle is adhered to very much depends on the scale and type of your store. Retail outlets such as Primark, which place an emphasis on mass-selling, implement grid setups because they aid circulation, and enable a huge number of products to be both displayed and seen by the customer. Boutique shops, on the other hand, which rely on fewer items being sold, but at a higher ticket price, can get away with a more organic and intuitive layout because of their comparatively small footfall. Again, we see that it is the purpose more than anything else which dictates how space is planned.

Supermarkets

Another common example of how space is planned in retail is in supermarkets. Like with other shops, their aim is to make us part with our hard-earned cash. One of the ways they do this is through their shelf positioning. The crème de la crème of supermarket shelving is at eye-level. Stores will place their own premium brand items at this level to encourage their sales. These seemingly small considerations can have very tangible effects on sales figures. The devil really is in the detail, it seems.

Offices

In recent times, the function of the office space has changed. It’s adapted to match the society-wide swapping of a less structured style of working in favour of something more flexible. The uptake of hot-desking, for instance, being one such change. The formerly conventional office layout, with its grid setup and cubicles, has seemingly gone out of fashion. The importance of employee wellbeing in an office’s long-term productivity has also led to the advent of more social spaces.

The key for architects, then, is to understand this change of culture and implement it into their briefs accordingly. At the start, we touched upon the idea that form shouldn’t come above function. But what if that space’s updated function is augmented through a greater focus on form? Wellbeing and productivity is surely going to be higher, after all, in a warm, welcoming space with plentiful soft furnishings and social areas, than it is in a cold and sterile office block. One of the ways in which architects are trying to provide this ‘warmth’ without compromising on space efficiency is by combining zones. Space planning doesn’t have to be about separation. In fact, versatility and integration form just as crucial a role in designing a space, especially where it’s limited.

As an example, setting aside an area, complete with softer seating such as sofas and comfier chairs, can work effectively as both a meeting area (the more informal nature of which can actually contribute to innovation and productivity, rather than distract from it) and a sociable zone for employees to take a moment away from their work activities.

The Future

Space planning is only going to feature more in architectural design as time goes by. This is especially true now, given the recent COVID-19 situation. Those open-plan style office designs we’ve just referenced? Well, there’s a good chance they’ll have to be modified, if not scrapped altogether, for the foreseeable future. One of the keys emerging from this virus has been the idea of reducing points of contact, where you can. It seems likely that departments and teams, which can’t function without interacting with one another, will form their own ‘bubbles’.

Innovating new ways in which office spaces can continue to facilitate collaborative work, whilst adhering to social distancing measures, is going to be at the forefront of the architectural design industry for months, if not years, to come. The same can be said for retail settings, so that their sales don’t drop, and education, so that as much of the traditional school experience (on both an educational and pastoral level) can be retained.

If you’d like to find out more about our architectural design services, then, and how we incorporate space planning within them, then get in touch! Alternatively, you can find out more about the architectural design process by reading our in-depth blog here.

Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.