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ARCHITECTURAL CONCEPTS:

CIRCULATION
April 18, 2016

This article is part of our series on key Architectural Concepts.


You can check out the rest of the series here, and if you have any questions or
comments about your experience with circulation, leave a comment below!

WHAT IS CIRCULATION?
“Circulation: movement through space
— Francis DK Ching in Architecture: Form, Space & Order
Before I began studying architecture, the word circulation meant very little to me,
other than bringing to mind science classes spent learning about the movement of
blood around the human body.

In architecture, the concept of circulation isn't so different - it refers to the


way people, the blood of our buildings, move through space.

In particular, circulation routes are the pathways people take through and around
buildings or urban places. Circulation is often thought of as the 'space between
the spaces', having a connective function, but it can be much more than that. It is
the concept that captures the experience of moving our bodies around a building,
three-dimensionally and through time.

In this article, I will look at what circulation is, and how you can design for it -
using the rules and breaking them too. I also touch on how architects represent
circulation, often using diagrams, and how circulation relates to Building Code
Requirements.

components of circulation
Although every space a person could access or occupy forms part of the
circulation system of a building, when we talk about circulation, we typically
don’t try to account for where every person might go. Instead, we often
approximate the main routes of the majority of users.

To simplify further, architects typically divide their thinking according to


different types of circulation, which overlay with one another and the overall
planning. The type and extent of these divisions will be project dependant, but
might include:

 direction of movement: horizontal or vertical;


 type of use: public or private, front of house or back of house;
 frequency of use: common or emergency; and
 time of use: morning, day, evening, continuous.

Each of these types of circulation will require different architectural


consideration. The movement might be fast or slow, mechanical or manual,
undertaken in the dark or fully lit, crowded or individual. The pathways might be
leisurely and winding, or narrow and direct.

Of these types of circulation, direction and use are often critical to a building
layout.
DIRECTION

Horizontal circulation might include hallways, atria, paths, entries and exits. It
is also affected by the furniture layout, or other objects in the space such as
columns, trees, or topographic changes. This is why architects usually furniture
as part of a concept design, because it is critically linked to the flow, function and
feeling of the space.
Vertical circulation is how people move up and down within the building, so
includes things like stairs, lifts, ramps, ladders and escalators which allow us to
move from one level to another.

USE

Public circulation is the areas of the building which are most widely and easily
accessible. In this guise, circulation is often overlapped with other functions, such
as a lobby, atrium, or gallery, and is enhanced to a high level of architectura l
quality. Issues of visibility, how crowds move, and clear escape paths are key.

Private circulation accounts for the more intimate movements within the
building, or the more ugly ones which require a degree of privacy. In a house this
might be the back door, in a large building the back of house, staff offices or
storage zones.

DESIGNING CIRCULATION
There are two rules of thumb when it comes to designing circulation. The key
circulation pathways should:

1. be clear and unobstructed;


2. follow the shortest distance between two points.

The reason for these two rules of thumb is fairly obvious: people want to be able
to move around a building with ease and efficiency, and without feeling or being
lost.

But, once you've got these rules sorted,


you're welcome to break them.

Sometimes for architectural reasons you'll want to interrupt a direct circulation


path with an item of furniture or a change in level to define a change in place,
make people slow down, or provide a focus point. Similarly,
circulation doesn't necessarily have to follow the shortest distance between two
points. Rather, it can take into account the sequence of spaces, thresholds, and
atmospheres encountered through movement, which prepare you for the
transition from one space to the next. Circulation can be choreographed, to add
architectural interest.

In this way, circulation is also intricately linked in with Programme, or what


activities take place, another key Architectural Concept which we will touch on
in this series.

efficiency and layout of circulation space

Circulation space is sometimes seen as useless space, adding needless area and
cost to a project. As a result, the word efficiency often goes hand in hand with
circulation.

Commercial office buildings and apartment buildings, for example, will typically
seek to minimise the amount of circulate space, and give this space back to the
tenancies or apartment interiors which are leasable, and thus, profit generating. In
these cases, where the buildings are often tall, the vertical circulation is often
designed as a core at the centre of the building, with stairs and lifts packed tightly
together, and short corridors on each level leading away from this core to the
individual apartments or offices.
Expressed circulation, Pompidou Centre

In contrast to this method, where all the circulation is located centrally and often
hidden, circulation can be externally expressed and shown off of the façade or
within the building. Even in smaller buildings, such as houses, circulation areas
such as a staircase can become architectural features of the home.

A celebrated example of this technique is the Pompidou Centre in Paris,


designed in high-tech style by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. Here, you can
see the translucent escalators with red undersides snaking across the exposed
façade of the building, the ever changing movements of people making the
building present and active in the square.

and finally: representing circulation


Circulation is often represented using diagrams , with arrows showing the ‘flow’
of people or the proposed openness of spaces. You might use different colours or
types of lines to describe the varying movements - check our our Circulation
board on Pinterest for ideas.

GET IDEAS FOR ARCHITECTURAL CIRCULATION DRAWINGS ON

PINTEREST

Although a critical part of design, circulation is often not directly represented in a


final Architectural Drawing Set - it is in the white space and gaps between
structural elements. However, there are some instances where exit pathways do
need to be shown, such as in the design of a public building where the routes
people will take to exit the building in case of fire need to be clear for evaluation
against the Building Code.

Circulation & the building code

In New Zealand, circulation is largely managed under the New Zealand Building
Code Compliance Document Clause D1: Access Routes, which you can download
here. This document sets out performance standards for a range of circulation
elements, including stairs and landings, hallways, doors, handrails, balustrades,
ramps and ladders.
Although at Architecture School, your design projects might not require you to
spend days checking for code compliance, this document can be a good place to
start to at least get the angle of your stairs looking vaguely legitimate, and to
understand how wide hallways should be to facilitate different kinds of movement
- two aspects of your project which will be obvious to critics examining your
project plans and sections.
http://portico.space/journal//architectural-concepts-circulation
ARCHITECTURAL CONCEPTS:
PROGRAMME
March 10, 2017

This article is part of our series on key Architectural Concepts. You can check
out the rest of the series here, and if you have any questions or comments about
your experience with programme, leave a comment below!

WHAT IS PROGRAMME?
Programme, put simply, is what happens on or within a building, site, or wider
area.

It's the activities and functions of the building - from the everyday public
activities to the periodic maintenance requirements. In practice, programme often
refers more specifically to how the elements, zones and spaces are organised.
In this article, I will look at what programme is, and how you can use, test, and
have fun with it in design. I will also explain some basic ways of thinking about
programme on your project, and different techniques architects often use to
explore and explain programme.

Note: Just to be confusing, we also use the word 'programme' when talking about
time and how the stages of the architecture project will play out. That's not the
meaning of programme I'm going to discuss here.

isn't the programme just the same as the brief, then?


This is a sticky point, and if you search google or wikipedia you're bound to find
yourself in a muddle between these two, wondering if programme and brief are
just different words for the same thing.

There is some suggestion that 'program' is an american term, where the re st of the
world prefers 'brief'. But in my opinion, while the programme and the brief have
some overlaps, they aren't just synonyms for the same thing.

It gets even more confusing because a project brief will typically include a
proposed programme. In larger, more complex projects, this is often provided in
the form of a Schedule of Accomodation.

But a good, thorough brief usually extends beyond the programme, providing a
wider range of aspirations and requirements beyond the physical requirements of
space and activity. These might include:

 cultural response,
 building longevity,
 aesthetic drivers,
 sustainability,
 materials and finishes,
 or even more broadly, a goal for how to project relates to the wider context.
And a very good brief will allow some flexibility around the programme,
enabling the architect to put forward their own agenda through design, to
consider alternative arrangements, overlaps, and flexible spaces, or to extend the
programme from the purely private into the public realm.

GET INSPIRED ABOUT ARCHITECTURAL PROGRAMME ON PINTEREST

UNDERSTANDING PROGRAMME
“A program is never neutral [...] The first thing an architect needs to do is to
dismantle that program and redirect it.
— Bernard Tschumi, Praxis 8
Depending on the project, the programme can often be highly complex, involving
many different elements that have different spatial requirements.

Even a seemingly simple programme such as a house can become complex when
you begin to consider how the programme might shift over time, or how public
and private aspects of the programme might intersect.

programmatic elements
There are many different techniques for thinking through these complexities. One
of the simplest places to start is to understand the programme by breaking it
into elements.

From a relatively simple starting point, you essentially 'unpack' the programme as
you delve deeper into the project, and as you build up more complex
understandings of the requirements.

Element Level 1:

Key Use
E.g. Stadium.
The top level - Key Use - gives a general understanding of the building use - this
is the term we might use to describe the building to a friend. It might be a gallery,
a house, a bank or a restaurant.

This broad terms encompasses and roughly sets out the range of activities that
take place, and the users you need to consider.

Defining the key use often overlaps with a sister architectural concept: typology.

Element Level 2:

Key Zones
E.g. Public & Private.

The second level - Key Zones - allows you to begin to understand the general
relationships and spatial requirements of the building or site, and to develo p an
overall strategy for how these fit together.

Here you might consider: The 'drawcard' element, which is usually most closely
aligned to Level 1 (In the Stadium example, it might be the field or pitch), Front
of House, Back of House, Amenities, Entry and Exit.
Element Level 3:

Individual Spaces
E.g. Ticket Booth, Seating Aisles, Bathrooms.
The third level is where the programme is finally broken down into each
individual space - but with the benefit of Level 2 allowing you to understand
interrelationships.

Here you want to be sure you account for all the requirements, and understand
any flexibilities. You might also realise you need to do some rethinking of you
Level 2 groupings, or that even through spaces such as bathrooms might be
thematically grouped, they need to be spatially distributed throughout the project.

DESIGNING FOR PROGRAMME


1. using the 5 'f's to design for programme
Once you have all your key programmatic elements figured out, you can begin
thinking through what your design needs, wants, or could do to the programme
through design. Usually, I use the 5 Fs to understand the key items I need to be
aware of and make decisions about when designing for programme.
FUNCTION

Can each required activity take place? Do the spaces operate adequately?

FIT

Can you adequately accomodate the spatial requirements for each activity?

FLOW

Is the sequence between activities that make up the programme correct? Is there a
clear, designed relationship between spaces? Can people move from one activity
to the next in a logical way?
FORM

How does the arrangement of spaces generate or relate to a form? Is the


relationship between programme and form reciprocal, indifferent, conflicting?

FURNISHING

Furnishing is often an afterthought. But we design space for activities, and to be


inhabited, so thinking about furnishing is fundamental to making the programme
work. Showing furnishing can also be an easy way of communicating the
programme of a space - e.g. a bedroom - in a drawing without relying on using
text.

2. understand the relationship between


the programme and the overall design concept.
The ideas around programme and concept can be developed together, alongside
the form and massing of the building. In some cases, one may precede the other -
making you have to work hard to achieve ‘fit’ - or to otherwise deal with other
difficulties or lack of efficiency that comes from not quite fitting.

The key thing here is to have an agenda!

Know what you stand for, take a side, promote change: it's up to you. Programme
is never neutral - how you decide to arrange your spaces will always affect the
way the building is understood, and have potentially political implications.

You can be quite tactical in your approach, and having a defined agenda means
you'll be much better able to make decisions about programme, and explain them
convincingly to others. And with a clear agenda, you'll by able to test ideas,
alternatives and possibilities beyond the known and expected.

Concept Programme Tests & Tactics:

 Invert the programme!


Think about what is expected - toilets at the back, practice rooms in the
middle, staff offices up higher, public spaces on the group - and invert it!
Playing with expectations can allow you to make bold new statements about
how we live, relate to others, and even understand what goes on inside a
building.
For example, you might make people walk past practice rooms and offices to
get to an exhibition space, or place the normally hidden practice or
production areas in full view - so people on the street can see orchestras
practising or bread being kneaded - not just the final product!
 Cross-programme!
Another way of playing with expectation is to add, mix, or intersect different
programmes that we wouldn't usually expect to go together. The idea of 'live -
work' spaces, where people's houses are also their offices or studios is
becoming more common, but can you take this to a new level? Can a
supermarket also be a childcare centre? A gym be an art gallery? A butchery
be a library?

3. developing your own design methods


for thinking about programme
Because programme is usually considered very early on in the design process,
and is often a complex beast, you'll quickly find that diagrams are your
programming best friend.

Test out:

 Bubble Diagrams (understand how zones or areas of different activities


might relate or overlap)
 Cluster Diagrams (consider which programmatic zones relate to others -
what do you need adjacent to or supporting a space, or how can you be
efficient about plumbing, for example?
 Sectional Zone Diagrams (Remember - it's not just about the plan! How do
spaces relate vertically? How do you move between them? For ideas about
circulation, check out our post on Architectural Concepts: Circulation here).
 3d Massing or Stacking Diagrams (once you understand the volumes and
areas, how can you mass, stack, relate these? Remember this is a diagram, not
necessarily the final aesthetic design!)
 Cross-programming Diagrams
 Inversion Diagrams

Of course, diagrams aren't the only way - but they can be a great starting point,
and can be as useful in a rough-and-ready initial sketch as they are in a refined
presentation.

FIND MORE PROGRAMME DIAGRAM INSPIRATION ON PINTEREST

do you have any questions or epic tips about programme?


get in touch & let us know in the comments!
WHY YOU NEED TO MAKE YOUR
ARCHITECTURE CONCEPT
PRESENTATION BELIEVABLE (AND 3
STEPS TO ACHIEVE IT)
June 18, 2016

THE BELIEVABLE ARCHITECTURE PROJ


ECT
Construction basics for Architectural Students

Concept is concept right? It doesn’t need to be structurally or constructionally


viable, right?

Well, yes and no.


Yes, one of the joys of architecture school is that not all your thinking needs to be
shaped by the realities of what is constructible, or fits within a certain budget. In
at least some of your design studio projects you're free to dream and explore and
push boundaries and enhance your learning by finding your own limits.

But, when your drawings have glaring inadequacies in the construction or


structural department, your tutors, critics, peers and clients will be distracted
from the really rich, well-considered and revolutionary aspects of your work.

And that's absolutely not what you want.

You don’t need to be a structural genius, you just need to know enough, and
draw enough, to make your project believable.

I don’t mean that your tutor or critics will believe that they could build the
building directly from your drawings. I mean that when they look at your
drawings and presentation, there is nothing so glaringly out of proportion, or so
obviously missing, that they are distracted from the valuable aspects of the
project.

your aim is to make your architectural concept believable.


“Contrary to your initial sketches, in reality, walls aren’t one line thick.
Notice the words I'm using here: your concept, not your building.

At Architecture School, tutors and critics understand that you're probably still at
an early phase, you haven't drawn all the details, and that the course often hasn't
asked you to. So they're not expecting to see a believable building - just a
believable concept. There's a difference.

When you do it right, it means you don’t get pulled into conversations about
materials, scale, or how you get in and out of the building. It means you get to
focus on your concept, and your site strategy, and your key design moves.

It means you get to spend more time discussing the interesting critical
themes of your project, and less time trying to explain or prove the validity
of it.

This has some similarities to the way understanding structure and constructi on
operates in the conceptual part of a professional design process - we work with a
base level believability, don't bog down clients with details before they are on
board with the concept. Then, we develop the detail further for discussion with
other consulting experts.

so your big question now is:


how do i make my project believable?

i've simplified the process into 3 key steps, that take you from planning your
project through to executing the drawings:
STEP 1: Give yourself some design tolerance

STEP 2: Develop YOUR BELIEVABLE PROJECT CHEATSHEET

STEP 3: PRODUCE CONVINCING DRAWINGS


So next I'm going to unpack each of these steps for you, one by one, so you can
get started on making your next project believable.

+ there's a downloadable template to get you started on developing your own


personal 'Believeable Project' cheatsheet!

STEP 1: GIVE YOURSELF SOME DESIGN


TOLERANCE
tolerance in the design process
In construction, tolerance is the word we use to allow for the difficulties of real
materials and construction processes. Real materials shrink, grow, and warp, the
parts of buildings don't quite line perfectly. Tolerance is the space that allows for
all these differences. In fact, it anticipates and expects them, and then prepares to
manage them.

As a construction management tool, tolerance is built in to the design process.


When detailing, we provide space for things to be a little bit off here, a little bit
off there.
Design tolerance

Tolerance is also part of the design process in another way. By building certain
factors in to your project early on, you give yourself design tolerance later on.
You are able to allow for, expect, and manage changes at a later stage.

An an example, it can be a major issue if you find out, when the building is
nearly resolved, that you need another 100mm of depth to support the roof. In
reality, this can have significant affects on cost, and any planning rules that might
be affected (such as maximum height limits, which might now be exceeded).

But the effects can also be critical to the design itself. How your design reads -
the relative visual weight of elements - can be drastically changed if one section
needs to be larger than previously thought.

believable projects understand, and incorporate, design tolerance.

give yourself some design tolerance:

 Design tolerance is about timing. In short: the earlier you understand


things, the better.
 Draw to scale as early as possible. This is the first step to understanding
proportion, and knowing where you have more or less tolerance
available. Freehand sketching to scale is a great skill to work on developing.
 Draw with thickness. Lines are great, but lines or elements with thickness
are even better - because, you guessed it, they build in tolerance. And
remember that drawings with good command of lines and line weights also
look great too!
STEP 2: DEVELOP YOUR BELIEVABLE
PROJECT CHEATSHEET
how thick is a wall?

and how do I show that?

The thickness of walls - or floors, roofs, or other elements - in your project is


critical to drawing believable plans and sections, and is often evident in
perspectives too. Contrary to your initial sketches, in reality, walls aren't one line
thick. In fact, you'll usually need at least two.

The thickness of the walls in your plans is project specific. There isn't one right
answer.
The thickness of your walls will depend on 3 key areas:

1. The material or materials used:


Their weight, thickness and density

2. The construction build-up:


The layers that make up the wall; and

3. Your design intent:


How thick or thin do you want the wall to 'read' to support your concept?

Of these 3 areas, architecture students are often great at the third - understanding
their design intent.

However, I often see students struggling the most with the first two -
understanding materials and construction build ups. The result? The design is
often sidelined or worse, simplified or compromised because of the student's lack
of knowledge or confidence in materials and construction.

don't let your design intent be compromised.

develop your personal believable project cheat sheet


What I did at university, and now often suggest to students I teach, is develop a
personal cheat sheet to ensure each project is believable, but the design
isn't compromised.

What is a Believable Project Cheat sheet?

In its most basic sense, it is a table that you fill out as you find out tidbits about
materials and construction methods through your course. It will be unique to you,
not only because construction methods and materials are different all over the
world, but also because you can choose what is important to 'log' in your table.

In your cheat sheet, you will set out typical methods you might be using, and note
down assumed dimensions and tolerances. I also used to jot down materials and
methods I saw other students using - especially when I heard the tutor mention
that they weren't quite right! I knew that meant I was likely to make the same
incorrect assumption, so it was better to research it then and there than in the heat
of a project deadline.

How do you use your Cheat sheet?

Where the cheat sheet comes into its own, is when you can quickly refer to it in a
project and use it to set up your drawings (see Step 3, below!)

I like to set mine up with different columns for 'concept walls' versus 'detailed
drawing walls'. It's the same construction and build up, but depending on the
stage or output, you might draw it differently. For example, my cheat sheet shows
that a typical timber framed wall at concept level would be drawn as 100mm
thick. But, as I developed the project, I would draw the build-up of different
elements, including interior lining, nominal timber framing thickness, any
exterior cavity and cladding system - all of which would total up to more than the
original 100mm.

It's a great starting point for any project - and the more you use your cheat sheet,
the easier it will be to eventually internalise knowledge of all the
materials, dimensions, and build-ups. Bonus: This will give you a great head start
when you get into practice and are expected to draw these things accurately from
day one!

The key to the cheat sheet is that the earlier you establish this the better - the
idea is to add to it as you go!
DOWNLOAD THE TEMPLATE & GET STARTED ON YOUR BELIEVABLE

PROJECT CHEAT SHEET

what are some key materials and build-ups you often use? share your
secrets in the comments!

STEP
3: PRODUCE CONVINCING DRAWINGS
so how do i draw a wall?
(or floor, or roof, or any element)

As you now know, a wall is never a single line. You need 2 lines, minimum, to
communicate either side of the wall - the inside and outside face.

Using your Believable Project Cheat sheet, you'll know how far apart those two
lines need to be. You'll also know what material you're indicating, which will
also give you clues for how to draw your walls. If you've read our article on line
weights, here, you'll know the secrets to communicating different materials using
different line weights and line types.

But you might have even more than 2 lines to draw, and you might want to
include hatches or other notational devices.

how you should draw your wall will depend on:

1. the wall materials & build up


because you'll often need to draw each element.
Hint: click here to grab our line weights cheat sheet too!
2. the type of drawing you are doing,
because a perspective drawing will obviously only show the external wall
finish, while a plan or section will reveal the internal layers.
3. the drawing scale
because the more you zoom in, the more detail you need to show, and the
more you zoom out, the simpler it needs to be to retain clarity.

You need to make sure you are clear on all 3 of these areas
before you start drawing!

MAKE YOUR PROJECT BELIEVABLE


if you follow the 3 step process, you'll produce a presentation packed full of
believable drawings that, cumulatively, mean you have a believable project
to present! remember:

STEP 1: GIVE YOURSELF SOME DESIGN TOLERANCE

STEP 2: DEVELOP YOUR BELIEVABLE PROJECT


CHEATSHEET

STEP 3: PRODUCE CONVINCING DRAWINGS


DOWNLOAD THE TEMPLATE

And in case you missed it above, I've put together a Template for you to use to
get started on building your personal Believable Architecture Project
Cheatsheet. Click on the button above to download your copy.