09 Aug 2008

Universal Design Principles

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Every architect, designer, artist, builder or hobbyist has a design philosophy. Most philosophies involve a flowery description of the design psyche and excessive use of compound adjectives. Those profound perfunctory proclamations of perpetual purpose make my head hurt. My design philosophy is not unique, but it’s simple — good projects respond to lifestyle and location.

The best design solution blends lifestyle, environment and neighborhood fabric (community) — It’s the great axiom, a good project enhances the way people live (function), responds to it’s environment (location) and is a good neighbor (compatible). The philosophy is my absolute strategy in all design solutions.

A functional house caters to family patterns and rituals rather than forcing the family to adopt patterns to work within it. That means we design the project to emulate the way the client lives by designing for the things they do or how they operate. Good functional design considers rituals, interests and whim.

A site-sensitive project works with the environment. The project should derive its orientation, form, zoning and placement from the lot and work together with terrain, sun patterns, breezes, and traffic patterns to show it belongs to and with the site. Projects that work with their environment will be more creative and energy efficient.

Fences make good neighbors? No, compatibility makes a good neighbor. Being compatible does not mean emulating the identical style and repeating it row-house style on every project. It means studying the neighborhood’s proportion, hierarchy, symmetry, rhythm and datum to find the underlying organizer that makes a neighborhood functional and aesthetic.

Modules simplify and unify designs. Design buildings on a 4′ design module to conserve material and respond to human proportions. The 3×4 rectangle is a golden rectangle derived from natural human proportion. This module also corresponds with common building material units such as plywood (4×8), gypsum board (4×8) and tile (4×4, 8×8, 12×12, 16×16). Buildings designed on this module, regardless of style naturally fit better in their context and are more human-scaled.

Keep the foundation and roof simple. The big cost items are the roof and foundation. Keep those major building systems simple to make the project more sustainable, cost conscious and use the money saved on simplicity to enhance interior fit, finish and ideas.

Design philosophy need not be profane to be effective. A practical, simple approach that focuses on the human, environmental and technical requirements such as lifestyle, location and means/methods renders the most creative living solutions.

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About the Author


Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 29 years experience in design, construction observation and life.