When we are asked by a client to design the interior of, for example, an office or restaurant, we not only look at the colours, the materials and the furnishings, we also spend a considerable amount of time ensuring that everything fits within the space. A restaurant with space for only 4 dining tables is unlikely to be financially viable, and understanding that before committing to the purchase of a lease makes good sense. Taking a detailed brief and working with the client to understand how they want to see the spaces work is a crucial part of the design process. Equally, working alongside a commercial client to establish how different departments interact, will impact on the interior layout and ultimately the scheme’s success. This activity is generally referred to as space planning and it defines the circulation patterns and layout of each activity as well as the positioning of fixtures and fittings. Whilst going through this process, we may revise and refine a layout plan umpteen times before we start looking at the other elements such as finishes and colour.
So, what are the primary considerations when carrying out a space planning exercise on a project?
From a designers point of view, we will take a clear brief from the client before assessing a number of criteria as follows:-
- Firstly, we assess the purpose of the space and define the business requirements. In other words, how will the space be used? Does it need to be multi-purpose or for one dedicated use? Commercial premises will have different needs to that of a restaurant for example. We have seen a growth in flexible working which also requires a more flexible approach to space. So a breakout area might, for instance, double-up as an informal meeting room or hot desk, and the needs of each of those activities should be met, eg privacy, comfort, access to wi-fi.
- Who will be using the space? Arguably an employers’ most important assets are their employees, so ensuring they are well catered for is an important factor. If a work station is undersized or if it is difficult to communicate with colleagues then staff soon become disgruntled. There is a fine line between ensuring that employees have the tools and environment to do their job well, and pandering to unacceptable requests such as excessive desk space or storage. This issue is most noticeable when re-organising existing offices. A member of staff who is used to working at a desk that is too big for the task in hand may be put out if the desk size is reduced during a refurbishment. This can be redressed to some extent by providing a better quality working environment, but human resources and line managers may also need to play a part in educating staff about the need to work more effectively, eg by storing documents digitally rather than in traditional filing cabinets.
- Accessibility is an important consideration with almost one in five of the UK population living with a disability. From a space planning perspective, providing space to circulate and access your work station, for example in a wheelchair is not just good practice, it is also regulated by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which states that you are in breach of the DDA if you fail to make reasonable adjustments for employees or job applicants who would otherwise be disadvantaged.
- Interaction and spatial relationships – Different job roles require different levels of interaction with other spaces or people. Therefore, workflows within a space are a big consideration. Efficiency when working behind a busy café counter can be considerably improved if the space is planned properly. It can make the difference between customers being satisfied or not, and ultimately impacts on profitability. In a restaurant, space around your dining table often correlates to spend per head. The more space you have the bigger the bill! A generalisation I know, but space does cost money and the better it is utilised the more productive and profitable an organisation will be.
As designers we are often required to work up space plans before any thought is given to finishes. Once we have reviewed the client brief and assessed the spatial needs of the business, we will start to work up a plan to meet those needs. Sometimes compromises have to be made if structural constraints won’t allow for the ultimate layout but adapting layouts until a reasonable compromise is made will help to shape the feel of any interior and the final look of the space. If work spaces are small, we might provide accent lighting and finishes to help make it feel more spacious. In offices, glass partitioning can give the illusion that a space is bigger than it really is, and introducing flexible working can contribute to making your space work harder for you. Specialist storage systems such as roller racking can increase storage capacity by up to 50% and technology has helped reduce the need for large capacity filing. For an expanding business, space planning can make the difference between moving to larger premises or using the existing space more efficiently. Worth considering particularly when good property is in short supply.