DIY Like an Architect: Designing with a Floor Plan
Architecture class at ArtCenter’s Saturday High: week four. My creative teens are practicing how to think like an architect — ready to tackle step 8 of DIY Like an Architect: 11-step method — zeroing in on a floor plan.
We are learning how to orchestrate experience. My goal is to add yet another layer, to broaden understanding of the design process for each of my students. Aaron Betsky said: “Design should do the same thing in everyday life that art does when encountered: amaze us, scare us or delight us, but certainly open us to new worlds within our existence.”
To warm up, my creative teens mind map. After printing in bold letters on the board: WHERE DO I BEGIN? and volunteering the first answer — “anywhere” — I leave for five minutes and they proceed by nominating Tyler to jot down what comes to mind. When I get back, he is finishing up and apologizing for spelling mistakes — radiating from the main topic are the following key associations:
- comfort zone
- unexplored ideas
- details / small things
- application of skills
We go over what they have collectively generated; I ask for their clarifications, interjecting a few of my own thoughts. I want to stress the importance of sketching as a way to freeform exploration, entice my creative teens to venture far and wide in their thinking, encourage to rely on and follow their instinct.
Charles Eames defined design as “a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.” To illustrate architectural floor plan conventions and to introduce the lesson’s vocabulary we talk about the Pantheon.
beauty – the aggregate of qualities that gives intense pleasure to the senses or deep satisfaction to the mind or spirit. It is due more to the harmonious relationships among the elements of a composition than to the elements themselves.
composition – the arranging of parts or elements into proper proportion or relation so as to form a unified whole.
balance – the pleasing or harmonious arrangement of elements in a design composition.
floor plan – is a view from above drawn as if an imaginary horizontal plane cuts through a section being drawn so as to remove a part above the cutting plane. A plan is represented best if the horizontal cut is taken through all openings (such as doors and windows) as well as all structural elements (such as columns). When solid mass is cut through, it is shown with heavier line weight or is shaded in. Thinner lines indicate objects below the cutting plane. Dashed lines indicate objects above.
I share with my creative teens how when dealing with a frustrating situation beyond my control I imagine being inside the Pantheon to calm myself down. I am not embarrassed. Exposing own vulnerability, I teach them how to think like an architect.
Recalling the building’s sheer strength translated into the most engagingly balanced Room — magnificently forceful and soothing at the same time — I think of its underlying core design principles, its all-embracing idea brought to life with a circle that defines the space both in plan and three-dimensionally.
I evoke the oculus in the coffered dome, an engineering feat as well as a symbolic gesture of colossal proportions. In my mind’s eye I admire its marble floor, a gorgeous representation of vast Roman colonies, yet another element working toward the goal of showcasing the all-inclusive concept of the structure. As my thoughts highlight these beloved details, I am able to distance myself from an unnerving problem at hand. Conjuring up images of the Pantheon provides much needed perspective, a plan of attack.
Speaking of the plan! Finally, it’s time to apply what they’ve learned and I postulate: “When you begin working on your floor plan, the first thing to do is to determine the scale based on how big your person is.” This is something I tirelessly remind them of while walking around the classroom and talking to each one of them individually.
Ten minutes before the class is over, everyone pins up their work. John’s parti is FOLLOWING THE SUN. He talks about sun’s vitality that necessitates an “open plan” allowing sun to be seen from anywhere. Martin has taken his concept of the PERIMETER to the next level of delineation quite nicely.
After all of them present, I notice that one girl is trying to avoid attention. I turn to her: “Sophia, what about you?” She replies: “I don’t have anything to show.” Very gently I insist. Sophia’s is about ACCESSIBILITY — her floor plan accounts for future needs, not yet anticipated. She says that she does not know how to show a sliding door. I promise to explain it next time.