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How to Design for Architectural Flow

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

Image Credit: © Gagnonm | Pixabay


When watching a film, the audience of that movie is experiencing a cinematic “flow”. That is, they are immersed within the real-time narrative of the film as it progresses from scene to scene. The same can be said about architecture, as it flows from feature to feature with transitioning spaces between features. Architectural flow is a higher-level poetic goal to reach as you design environments. After all, there is a significant difference between a building that houses a variety of independent functions that co-exist near one another versus a building that fosters functions that harmonize with each other as each leverages the other. This is an important characteristic of architectural flow – where an occupant narrative emerges from a well-designed environmental narrative.


As an environmental designer, you can ask yourself the following questions to help you achieve this higher-level flow-state within your environmental designs:

• As an occupant experiences my environmental design, do they grow or improve throughout the journey – where they are ultimately better off after having experienced the environment as a whole?

• What “story” or “narrative” am I building for occupants within the environment I am creating?

• What are the key architectural features and spatial functions needed to realize the most beneficial architecture flow for building occupants?


An example of building flow can be highlighted within healthcare building design. For example, if designing a hospital, how would the waiting room area flow into the patient treatment room? To design for this micro-flow, it is beneficial to think about how the waiting room could be designed to help the patient (reduce stress, learn about the healing process, or even reduce pain or discomfort) as they prepare for their medical examination and/or treatment. Architectural flow is about helping the building occupant to transition from space to space, so they can process what they have just experienced and prepare for what they will experience in the most optimized manner.

While cinematic films have a more linear narrative, it is in the world of architectural design that narrative becomes dynamic – able to shift, twist, and turn as occupants decide where and when to go to different spaces within an environment. For this reason, it is important to design for architectural flow so your environmental narrative not only makes sense sensorially, but so it also uplifts occupant well-being through the compounding of benefits as they experience the different features and spaces of your environment. The goal is to poetically expand how your building occupants thrive by not only designing one worthwhile moment within the architecture, but by designing a meaningful and uplifting journey that leverages the “golden thread” that turns worthwhile moments into a sum that is greater than its parts.




what members are saying...
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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