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establishing hierarchy, plan, section, architect on demand, advice without strings

This week my focus is on establishing hierarchy in plan and section as I’m helping a client in New Mexico who is DIYing an “outbuilding” that will serve as his private gallery and art studios.

Here’s how he stated his initial consultation question: “I want to refine the design and room dimensions and volumes for maximum efficiency, flow and impact, and ultimately create a biddable plan set.” He attached conceptual drawings as well as a sample image of the type of display in the gallery.

I am very intrigued by the project. However, I feel that his layout, just a rectangle divided into quadrants, has to be tweaked. I gently nag: “I’d like to get involved. If you will permit me, I’ll guide you a bit further with the design, so that you can refine it. The object, I am guessing, is to create wonderful spaces. Isn’t that right?”

establishing hierarchy, plan, section

I could help my client with establishing hierarchy by differentiating between served (important) and servant (secondary) rooms both in plan and section…

establishing hierarchy, plan, section

Looking at the design, I am truly bothered by the placement of storage right at the entrance. I’m just itching to re-organize and create a “service zone” that would support all of the major (or served) spaces, such as the gallery (1), the art studios (2), and the gallery foyer (3).

establishing hierarchy, plan, section

My client is skeptical, as he’s quite happy with his original layout. He writes: “Storage is primarily for crates and objects not displayed in the gallery. Its joint access from the art studio would also allow for storage of art supplies. I’m not sure why the SW corner would be considered prime — this area would be several feet from existing garage and garden walls.”

He continues: “Also, it’s important to note that the proposed outbuilding does not have high visibility from the rest of the house or the curb, so that the outside appearance of the gallery/studio structure is not of primary concern to me.  The house in general has little “curb appeal.” Its main asset is the views from within — both of the walled garden from the first floor and the surrounding mountains from the second floor. The location of the gallery/studio building does not interfere greatly with the second floor views. The view of the gallery/studio roof would be most prominent from the second floor office windows and balcony, looking NE, which is why I attempted to break up the volume of the structure with roof areas of differing heights.”


Aha! He is attempting to break up the volume! Certainly, my client has a good reason for every move he’s made while drawing up his plan.

What if he applied the logic of heightening the importance in plan and section instead of breaking up the volume for the sake of appearance?

My client’s design could work better if he were to set up a system of height differentiation. It would help to distinguish between various spaces in terms of their use, whereby establishing hierarchy in section. In other words, representing spaces as being “above,” “below,” or “at the same level as” one another.

establishing hierarchy, plan, section

Case in point is the precious real estate right by the front door. Some of it is wasted on storage. If the concept of “storage” were expanded on and the outbuilding were organized to provide all served spaces with access to a service zone… Don’t you think it would operate more efficiently? Said service zone would include back door entrance/loading for the art studios, storage, and a bathroom.

establishing hierarchy, plan, section

A service zone is recognizably identified as “utilitarian” in plan and section by its placement and proportions.

It serves the gallery, the art studios, and the gallery foyer. To show that the servant space has a secondary role, even though it works hard to put everything in order, we have to place and scale it accordingly. After all, establishing hierarchy in plan and section is clearly articulating the importance of a space or lack thereof by its form and arrangement relative to other spaces.


  • April 21, 2017


    Another interesting post … I will think about it a bit!


    • Alla DIY Ally
      April 21, 2017

      Thank you very much for reading, Bob!!!

      • April 22, 2017


        In you blog post, “Submittal Requirements for a One-Story Addition or Alteration / Part 1” your drawings were oriented so that north is always up and you have done that again here. What are the advantages in laying out you drawings with north always up?


        • Alla DIY Ally
          April 23, 2017

          It’s a convention, Bob. It’s much easier to orient yourself that way.

      • April 26, 2017


        So, this is how you use one of the ordering principles (axis, symmetry, hierarchy, rhythm, datum, transformation, …) on a project. I will put all of them in my tool box and try to learn how to use them.


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