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An architecture programme captures a building function in great detail. For some designers, the function of a building can be seen to restrict the creative process, innovation and aesthetics. However, the lack of attention to the functional requirements will assure those that use the building every day will see it as a failure in design. Architectural programme is therefore an essential consideration in every design project and process. Find out why…

Is An Architecture Program A Brief?

The term “programme” can also be used to discuss the schedule or phases of a project. This is not what we are talking about here.

Architectural programme is also often used interchangeably or can be confused with a brief. It is often said that the term brief is used in Australia while programme in the United States. But they are quite different, and both valid.

An architecture brief is a statement of a clients requirements which form the basis for appointing a designer or architect. The brief describes the requirements that need to be included across the whole project. The programme may be just one part of the brief.

A good brief will go far beyond the programme and functional requirements of a project. It normally includes an architectural programme as part of the brief, but will also include information about:

  • The scope of services and what is expected of the architect or designer in exchange for fees; and
  • The project scope of works such as the site and location, materials, typology, the users and project goals and aspirations.

An architecture programme is what happens within a building or site. It is a detailed breakdown of the spaces within the project, based on client requirements, user activities and needs, and spaces required for the building to operate.

A good brief will give the designer room to move and explore options to solve project and programme requirements.

…To learn more, review the article titled “Architecture Project Brief Or Design Brief”…

Defining the Program

A programme is developed by first understanding, defining and then considering what is to happen in the building. A brief can be a simple document of a few pages for a house, or up to hundreds of pages for something more complex like a university building, a laboratory, or a government or defence facility with highly unique and complicated activities.

01 | Functional Requirements are what is needed for the building to function and meet the needs of the users. Three aspects need to be considered which include:

  • Users/ people | The different users and user groups and their activities, needs and desires, and the physical space, equipment and vehicles required for each of these activities.
  • Equipment | The physical objects that the users require to complete their different activities within the structure, as well as any additional objects that need to be stored. It is important to have a detailed inventory as possible for physical items to be stored, housed and used in the building, as space needs to be developed specifically for these. Depending on the building typology, this could include furniture, equipment, stationery, machinery, appliances, clothing or personal belongings.
  • Vehicles | The vehicles used by the users to transport them to and from the facility and the associated space required for storage, turning, movement and maintenance. This could include cars, motorbikes, trucks or boats.

02 | Operational Requirements are the activities, equipment and what is needed to keep the building physically operating. These include things like elevators, security, audio-visual, communications, mechanical, heating and ventilation systems, removal of rubbish, recycling and waste, gardening or landscaping, cleaning or window washing on a high-rise.

In a house or a simple building, these may be basic. In larger, more complex buildings these items can be much more detailed and comprehensive..  It may be prudent to consult the people who will operate, maintain and service the building to understand their needs. While these people may not use the building daily it is essential to understand their requirements for access to certain areas or equipment.

Creating Spaces | The Accommodation Schedule

Once the functional and operational requirements are understood, the programme can be developed into an Accommodation Schedule.

An Accommodation Schedule is usually in the form of a table that captures the different spaces and their requirements. Depending on the size, scale and complexity of a project the Accommodation Schedule will collate the specific requirements for each building, floor or level, and internal spaces or rooms, as well as external spaces.

Types of spaces include:

  • 01 | Primary Spaces | The spaces required to house the functional requirements of the building. These include things like kitchens, living rooms, offices, bathrooms, classrooms, bedrooms or dining rooms.
  • 02 | Ancillary Spaces | These include things like elevator plant rooms, communications rooms, air-conditioning plant, storage rooms, cleaners rooms, elevator shafts and plant, and even circulation.

The table will be produced with a list of spaces or rooms down the left column, and a series of columns for each space with the following information:

  • Area | An area or specific dimensions of the final internal space.
  • Users | Who will use the room, either as a generic type of person (eg. student, doctor, nurse) or a specific person or role (eg. David Wilson, Finance Manager).
  • Number of people | The average and maximum number of people to use the space at any one time and who they are (eg. maximum 5, including manager and up to 4 guests)
  • Activities | A list of activities to be undertaken in the space with specific attention to movement or changes in the position and requirements of the human body.
  • Equipment | A list of the specific equipment to be housed in the room including numbers and sizes, dimensions. Equipment could include furniture, appliances, personal belongings as well as specific storage requirements for the equipment such as height, depth or length of shelves, or circulation requirements for moving the equipment.
  • Notes or comments | Any additional specific information that relates to that space and affects the function, operation or development of the design. For example, relationships to other spaces (eg. robe must be accessed from the main bedroom, public toilets must be outside the secure area, or office must be within a secure area). Or, specific qualities and characteristics of that space (eg. must face a Northern aspect, or a studio space must have excellent natural daylighting).

An Accommodation Schedule should be developed and agreed upon early in the process. When areas are allocated to spaces, a quick cost estimate can be made based on square metre rates to determine a very broad cost estimate. The overall project scope can then be adjusted as required.

An agreed Accommodation Schedule gives both the client and the designer a benchmark against which to measure any programme or design changes. Without a clear programme, the project design can quickly get out of hand or upon completion, the project may not meet the functional requirements of the users.

Example of an Accommodation Schedule for sleeping areas for a family home.

Designing With Program

Once a programme is developed this becomes a key consideration in the design process.

…To learn more, review the article titled “Top 9 Architecture Design Factors For ALL Architecture Projects”…

The architecture programme can be considered at several different scales to help develop ideas, concepts and resolution of design:

  • [Mega] Building Typology – The type of building or structure that is to be designed and constructed, such as a school, house, hospital, shop or office building. Research can be undertaken into precedents or examples of similar buildings, aesthetics, or best practices for this type of building that can be used as a reference.
  • [Macro] Zones – The way similar types of spaces, uses and activities can be grouped within a building or project to create a strategy for the project. Zones can include things like public or private, entry and exit, front of house and back of house, circulation or transition, internal and external.
  • [Macro] Functional Relationships – The way different spaces relate to one another. Should bathrooms be grouped or spread out? Which spaces specifically need to come off a lobby, reception or waiting area? Are there spaces that need to together or be kept apart? How do we move between spaces, and what is that transitional experience?
  • [Micro] Individual Spaces – The individual requirements of a space as well as the impact of the function and operation on the aesthetics, volume and form. The opportunities for a bathroom are very different to a gallery or performance space. Each space needs to be considered and the design developed to accommodate furniture, equipment, and activities in the best layout possible.

A good brief will allow a designer to capture the project requirements in the programme but give some flexibility in the design solution to meet these needs. This could include things like multi-use or multi-purpose spaces that can be adjusted to meet multiple needs in one space instead of three or four which saves on costs and size. It could be found that a solution to a user need may not necessarily be a physical, facilities solution but more of a management solution. For example, three different departments in a university may all require a lecture hall for 2 days a week. A single, central facility used every day with a booking system may be a better solution than three mostly empty buildings.

What Next?

Programme is often dismissed by many architects who have a design focus. They feel it can restrict the creative process and outcome. However, the most imaginative architectural forms may win awards for their aesthetics but in a way are useless to the users who cannot furnish a circular space, or don’t have direct access to resources that have been hidden away by the designer in a closet down the hall for a minimalist effect. Or who do not have enough daylight, or who have to take guest through the kitchen to get to the dining room.

Programme is an essential consideration in the design process. Taking the time to define and explore its opportunities at the start of a project can help give the design a clear direction and save a lot of re-working during the design process by trying to define the programme through trial and error.

Choose to see the architecture programme as an opportunity to explore.

Until next time…

Liz at ArchiMash