4 crucial elements to consider when creating an architectural design brief

architectural planning

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Developing a brief for a new home is exciting. There are countless things to consider, including the placement of the house on the block, the size and position of rooms throughout the house, and even the colour scheme.

However, when creating a brief for a new building, people tend to focus more on the aesthetic of the new building rather than the significant, more important aspects like the technical and functional design.

Overlooking these crucial elements can cause the budget to go over, the building schedule to get pushed back, and create more work for the Architect.

In a previous blog, we discussed how fashion – by it’s nature – is temporary. Fashion trends are driven by seasonal cycles and retailers desire to drive new sales. Magazines and television shows are always publishing the latest and greatest, which can be quite seductive to the casual reader or viewer.

The difference in designing any building and particularly your own home is the longer life that any design sections will involve. Unlike clothing which can be replaced at the end of each season, your home is intended to stand for many decades, so making changes as fashions come and go is expensive.

Architectural design is complex with many interrelated matters and while creating a realistic brief, people can often get the terminology confused, particularly when talking about related topics like design, fashion, aesthetics and other similar matters.

In this blog, we aim to make the briefing and design process much simpler using the Ancient Roman Architect Vitruvius’ description of the essential qualities of architecture – commodity, firmness, and delight.

#1. Functional Design (Commodity)

The functions of a building can cover many aspects. However, within a house, it’s primarily concerned with the functional internal planning; the size and relationship between the various spaces; provision of sensible and flexible rooms; the consideration of furniture layouts; the provision of sufficient natural light and good ventilation; and finally, practical, efficient circulation.

While the planning within the building is the primary focus, good design will also consider how the building sits on the site and how the internal spaces will relate to the external living areas and gardens.

Part of the functional aspect of a house is the climate and weather protection, consideration of the prevailing winds, rain and sun protection.

merewether residence

#2. Technical Design (Firmness)

The building must be constructed to provide enclosure and structural stability.

The technical aspects of a house design include the structure, which will support the building (floors, walls and roof), the provision of services and how these are integrated within the structure (water, electricity, gas, drainage, air conditioning), the cladding of the building to provide protection from the elements as well as reducing the maintenance cycles.

The final aspect is buildability – a combination of the structural and cladding elements to enable the building to be built in a reasonable manner without difficult and costly construction methods.

#3. Creative Design (Delight)

These aspects include more intangible ingredients that create a sense of delight and enjoyment in living within a house.

These considerations can include maximising attractive views, the appropriate control of sunlight, the flexibility of the internal planning for multiple uses, creating interesting and spacious interiors, the ability of the house to increase the occupants appreciation of the natural world, including changing seasons and weather, and creating some spacial excitement for the occupants as they move through the house between the various spaces.

This also includes the more aesthetic considerations such as internal and external colour and material selections and the external form of the building.

#4. Civic Design

Moving on from Vitruvius’ elements of design, any building – including a house – has a public presence as it addresses the street and the neighbouring buildings on the adjoining properties.

Civic design includes respect for the neighbouring properties, consideration of mutual privacy, overshadowing, setbacks from boundaries, appropriate landscape treatment, plus other similar matters.

Good manners in civic building design translates into the consideration of others so that your own building does not compromise the amenities of your neighbours. This also includes how your house contributes to the streetscape.

Essentials for building a new home: a checklist

Rather than fixating on a particular “look” or trend at the outset, it is more critical to gain an understanding of the important, more relevant matters that will lead to a successful outcome.

There are many ways to describe or define the elements of building design. We’ve created a basic checklist of the essential aspects of your future house – this may also serve as prompts for discussions with your Architect so that important matters are not overlooked.

#1. The Site

The design of any building must begin with careful consideration of the site and its surrounding context.

No building can be designed without a site. You must consider the orientation, the surrounding buildings, the slope of the land, the existing vegetation and trees, views, the nature of the foundation material and the climatic conditions.

Some homeowners work backwards and try to place a predetermined design on a site that is not suitable, which is a poor procedure.

#2. The Brief

The brief includes the owners’ accommodation requirements such as living and dining spaces, the kitchen, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, car parking, the details of their particular lifestyle, and their family needs.

The brief can be left quite open or can be specified in great detail, depending on the owners’ knowledge and requirements. In most of our house projects, the initial brief is quite loose, with the details filled in as the design progresses.

#3. The Budget

A realistic budget should be established at the outset.

The budget can be developed in a variety of ways. Sometimes the budget is simply an expression of the funds available for the building project. In other cases, the budget is based on the anticipated cost of providing the accommodation required.

In the majority of cases, the budget is adjusted at different stages during the design process as the cost of the building is assessed against the accommodation desired and the funds available.

Usually, adjustments are made to ensure that these two figures can align.

#4. The Design Process

Using all of this information, the Architect will then proceed with initial concept drawings.

These drawings allow for revision and discussion and are revised and improved in an incremental process through a series of meetings. Through several cycles of meetings and review, the drawings are improved and developed, giving the owner ample time to make all the crucial decisions when various options are presented.

By proceeding with the design in increments, the brief, budget and other essential matters can be developed and considered. More information can also be provided as the design progresses.

The refinement of the three-dimensional form of the house occurs as a later stage in the design process after the critical and important planning matters have been reasonably and thoroughly resolved. There is no point finessing the exterior of a building if it is likely to change due to major revisions to the internal planning, causing the external form of the building to alter.

#5. Simple but effective questions for the Architect

When talking to an Architect, you can prompt the discussion with a series of questions addressing the different aspects of the building. By basing questions on the functional, technical, civic and creative design aspects noted above, the house design can be fully considered and hopefully with all the important issues included.

These questions can lead to a more thorough examination of what is proposed.

Some simple but constructive questions include:

– Will the house suit my needs (room sizes, furniture layouts, my lifestyle)?

– How will it be built (what materials, what structure, what roofing, and so on)?

– What will it cost and why (the materials used, the total floor area, the area of decks and outside spaces, the quality of the internal inclusions, and so on)?

glenrock national park house

Designing a new home is more complex than finding a few images on Pinterest

The process of designing a new home can be complex.

The aim when building a house is to make well-considered choices which will stand the test of time and not become outdated in a few years due to the undue influence of elements that are “on trend”.

Design involves a deeper level of thinking that is quite different from surface appearances, colour selections and other aesthetic matters. These superficial matters are often the misguided starting point for a client in the discussion of their house. Design, in essence, is the rational and creative solving of problems.

You must consider the fundamental issues and have a deeper consideration of the truly important design aspects of the project.

Hopefully, this blog helps to open your mind, look beyond the finished appearance of the building, and look more closely at the more important issues of how the house will meet all your needs.

Want to discuss your architectural design brief with a professional? Contact Newcastle’s top architectural firm, Mark Lawler Architects.

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