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How a house works

5 September 2018
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Architect Richard Dalman discusses what should influence a floor plan and why getting the layout right is so important.

Most often houses are presented in magazines as pictures of inspirational exterior facades and interiors. But what of the relationships between the spaces and levels, the flow through the house to the garden, and the aspects to the street, sun, and views? All of these will be determined by the floor plan, from which you can see how the house works. One of the key skills architects are taught is how to plan. Through the floor plan, they can influence how the occupants live. Good planning can reduce waste space, save construction costs, and enrich the daily lives of the
inhabitants. An open-plan allows flexibility, whereas a more structured plan could dictate how the house is to be lived in. Either approach will be appropriate, depending on the owner’s requirements.

Most often, there is a mix of both approaches. Different parts of the house can be designed to create different moods. Consider the amount of enclosure or openness your rooms have. Where do you like to sit, eat, entertain, talk, and sleep? And during which times of the day, week, or year? Or when the sun is shining or it is cold? People have different requirements. A couple with no children may be happy with a small tight space, whereas a family might require separate living spaces for the children and adults.

A house may be planned to suit your current living patterns, or how you would like to live. There are a number of factors that can influence a floor plan before the architect has even started. A long, skinny site will likely result in a long, skinny plan. My own house I am currently designing has such a site, resulting in a bit of a journey from one end to another. The trick is to make the linking spaces open and interesting, without resorting to dark internal corridors.

A steep site will most likely require a plan that is split over more than one level, whereas a large, flat site gives
more options for a sprawling single level house if desired. Even minor things about the way you live, such as whether you like to lie in bed in the morning or get up early, can affect how an architect may plan your house.

When it comes to the exterior form, some designers believe it is merely derived from the plan, whereas others design the plans around what they think the house should look like from the outside. Most good houses are a combination of both approaches. Architects generally sketch plans and three-dimensional images at the same time. When planning a house I believe it is best to keep things simple. This can reduce wasted corridor space, be cheaper to build, and help make the house easy to use. A floor plan that is easy to understand when looking at it on paper can also be easy to live in once built. A well-planned home will not only enhance your living experience, but is likely to add value to your property when it comes time to sell.

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