Every architectural endeavor starts by considering the function of the building before requesting a construction estimate. What will it be used for? What kind of people will use it?
This has been true since the very first structures were built. The primary purpose was shelter from the environment and potential predators. This meant the structure needed to have a slanted roof for protection from the sun and rain. It also needed to have solid walls of stone or, at the very least, a non-transparent covering to hide them from lurking danger. Over thousands of years, this consideration of the occupant’s needs has evolved to incorporate every possible psychological preference into the design elements of the building.
Observe the structure around you now. Do you see the design elements that were incorporated just for you? If you are inside a building, observe the shapes, materials used, colors, flow of the room, and windows. If you are outside, look at the buildings around you and observe the elements of ingress and egress (entrances and exits), or how the building considers its natural environment.
If you are in the business of property development, remodeling, or investor fix and flips, you must always consider how your design elements are serving the occupants or customers of any structure. Designing a building with a purpose will make or break an investment in a property.
Two defining factors that should be considered during the design phase of any build to make your occupants the priority are the physical and psychological features of property design. It is also worth mentioning that a structure’s natural environment and cardinal direction are important factors to consider in the design process.
Physical items tend to be more obvious simply because you can reach out and touch or see them. For example, if you are building an elementary school, you will need to consider the students as well as the faculty. This means certain restrooms will have toilets, sinks, and urinals that are lower than what you might find in most other public settings. The lunchroom will need dining surfaces and benches that meet the height criteria for children aged 7 to 13. On the other hand, there will need to be a designated faculty break room with facilities for the adults in the building. Even the entry doors to the school will need push bars or handles that are set lower.
Let’s move onto an example where the physical design features are a little less obvious: a church. In most contemporary churches, the design is purposeful. It incorporates many symbolic meanings from the specific religion practiced. For Christian sanctuaries, there is a lobby or foyer area, called a vestibule, at the entrance of the building. This area is meant to symbolize the “door to the church,” separating the reconciled members from the ones who are not. In the main sanctuary hall, there are typically many leading lines to the front of the room where the altar stands that serve to direct the attention to the priest or pastor. Depending on the development budget, the church may have a floor that slopes downward toward the altar and becomes more tapered toward the front of the hall. This is called theater seating and serves several purposes. It ensures everyone in the congregation can see the altar, and it creates a megaphone-like shape for the room, which makes it easier for everyone to hear the priest or pastor.
The psychological effects of architectural design were first realized and discussed near the start of the 20th century. Since then, architectural psychology has been extensively studied. In 2021, German professor Alexandra Abel defined architectural psychology as “the science of human experience and behavior in built environments.” It is agreed that implementing specific shapes, colors, or textures into the design of a structure can evoke a desired emotion or metal state for the occupants.
Think about a dentist’s office for example. No one really enjoys a dentist visit. With that being said, it’s fair to assume that most individuals enter a dental office with a moderate amount of anxiety or stress. This is why most dental offices will go above and beyond to try and relax their patients in the waiting room via the design. Next time you have a dentist appointment, look around. You are likely to see an overwhelming number of rounded edges on the walls and ceilings. You will see more soft colors like blue, green, white, gray, and yellow. Even the texture of the chairs in the waiting room were chosen to ease your tension.
There are numerous examples of these same principles being applied to different property types. Prisons contain architectural features to keep the inmates docile and subordinate. The interior décor of office buildings often contains very little eye-grabbing details to keep employees on task. Take a moment to observe your surroundings and digest how the design makes you think or feel.
In a perfect world, every dentist’s office would make you feel calm, and every church would have theater seating so you are not peering around the person’s head in front of you. However, sometimes the budget isn’t big enough to accommodate these elements.
This is when value engineering comes into play. It has been around since the beginning of architecture. While the hunters and gatherers might have wanted a stone wall for their shelter to keep out snakes or other predators, sometimes the necessary stones for this arrangement were not available. A teepee with an animal hide stretched across a wood frame had to suffice. The same thinking occurs today when considering design with budget constraints: Build a structure that serves its occupants both physically and psychologically with the funds at hand, and you will be starting out on the right foot with your investment property.
Taylor Miller is a project specialist and marketing coordinator for Owner Builder Advisors, where he helps developers and owners navigate the construction process. He has been actively involved in the construction and inspection industries since 2016. Miller also manages marketing campaigns, social media, and document generation/compilation for both formal and informal application processes.