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How Poor Architectural Details Can Crush Your Building Design

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © gruntzooki | Flickr

The other night as I was approaching (to enter) a restaurant, a group of people happened to be exiting. And as they were making their way through the main doors, one of them exclaimed (with a lot of passion in her voice), “we had to eat a lot of food to be able to push these doors open” — the doors were just “so heavy“.

As it became my turn to enter, it also became my turn to hold the door and I quickly discovered just how right she was in her observation.

While this was a good restaurant…There were some lessons to be learned here.

As an architect you must make a concerted effort to go beyond the visual and aural senses — for, in the restaurant design that I recently experienced, it would have helped immensely if the designers had made their entrance/exit “gateway” feature more than just look good…because despite their best efforts to do this, once occupants interacted with the doors, their negative perceptions reflected badly upon the restaurant and their dining experience.

So much of architecture is a touch-based and tactile experience. Just think of how many times your occupants “touch” something (architectural details) while experiencing your building design.

It may help to actually walk yourself through their journey, while paying particular attention to what their sensorial journey will be like. For instance, what do they hear within each spatial zone of your design? What do they touch? …whether to open a door, pull up a chair, turn on a light switch, lean against a wall, hold a handrail, and so on? Think about how each architectural zone transitions into the next, and about what core points you intend to make in each within your design.

The First and Last Thing They Remember

Not only is it important to understand the sequence of the way your architectural design impacts your occupants through their journey, but it is also good to think about where within the sequence they experience those things. For example, the extremely heavy doors within the restaurant that people experienced became the first and the last thing that those restaurant goers had to contend with during their dining experience at that place. What kind of message do you think that sends to them, especially if this was their first and last impression?

Now, if you are trying to make a bold statement, then it may be wise to work within your designs by juxtaposing different sensory modalities. Perhaps slightly heavier doors are purposely set there to create a certain atmosphere and expectation within the occupant before they experience the full breadth of an interior space. But be careful, making a statement too bold may create the opposite effect that you are aiming for.

Thus, when you are working to get all of the architectural detailing just right, do not overlook (or take for granted) the most simple and obvious within your architectural designs. You may often find that it is within these “details” that many designs (which may have otherwise been good), simply fall short or are otherwise ruined. So, again, do not overlook the details — and I am talking about the ones that are most simple and obvious. Think beyond what might look good to also incorporate how it will actually feel within the overall experience of your design. For, even building details can have strong and long-lasting impact on your entire overarching building design, either positive or negative.

In the end, create your architectural details to give your building occupants the experience that they need, while all the time trying to surpass their expectations.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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