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The problem of inside and outside.

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Good design is an amalgam of a building plan which works together with an exterior that looks good. Now, that, of course, is putting it very simply because both of these prerequisites can be broken up into many factors that to a lesser or greater extent make for a really good design. Before we get complicated, let us just dwell on these two aspects which I call prerequisites. To derive a plan of a building that gives the end user an arrangement of rooms and spaces that serve the purpose is on its own, relatively simple and likewise, to derive an elevation that looks pleasing is not too difficult, although this is a bit more subjective of course, so let's just take the view that we are designing for our own satisfaction for the purpose of this discourse.

The problem comes when trying to reconcile the inside with the outside. For instance; you draw a front elevation which you think is absolutely stunning. You can then bet that the best place for the window to illuminate the room in this equally fantastic building plan is not going to be in the same place as on your designs.

How do you resolve this?

Well, you have to start somewhere, and I know some architects who start with a plan, and then there are other architects who start with an elevation. The truth is: you really have to consider both at the same time. Personally, I think that the plan is king, and the elevation style and outward appearance will follow on from a thorough consideration of the inside. However, it is not straight line logic and as you design the inside, you have to leave yourself some options. Then before you get too settled on an internal arrangement, you would do well to start considering the outside, in fact, there will always be a lot of too-ing and fro-ing before anything is fixed.


Some other important factors to consider are the approach to the building, where the sun rises and sets, particularly what does the south elevation look like? You should think about any views which you’d like to take advantage of, what is the scale (size) of other adjacent buildings and the genre, if any. Obviously, the structural system employed to enclose the space is a major factor. For me, I like what I would call ‘honesty in the design’  in that for a building to be really satisfactory, it has to look like what it is, and it should tell you something about its nature from the outside (how it stands up for example). Insisting on this can of course make life as a building designer even more difficult, but I think that it is well worth it.

What is sad for me is when clients insist on an outside appearance and then try to force a building plan on it. Not quite as bad, but almost at the same level is buy a ready made plan and then positioning it on a site with no thought as to where the front door is in relation to the road or perhaps getting this right only to find that the picture window to the lounge looks out on a neighbours thick hedge. Buildings are expensive, it really must be worth getting this stuff right at the design stage. I have been asked to help finish off two projects recently that have stalled. It may have been a coincidence but in both cases, the designs are seriously flawed and I suspect that in one case the outward design was determined first (perhaps to appease the planning department) and then the internal arrangement was forced into place. This is like cutting up jigsaw pieces to make them fit. In the case of the other project, god only knows what the architect was thinking of. They are both what I have begun to call ‘failed grand design projects’ although neither will ever make an appearance on your TV, I am sure. We will have to make some radical changes to the inside of both, and in one case possibly move the front entrance door to the other side. The other project will require a new roof design I think, and a little careful demolition. The really sad thing for me is that there are two buildings which will never live up to the aspirations of the owners because due to the problems and quite possibly disillusionment, and they are being sold to new owners who are asking me to finish them off. It’s a problem of inside to out, and also outside to in.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

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