Looking to design buildings in architectural practice?

Start designing buildings with real-world considerations in mind fresh out of university.

You should read this post to better understand how the careful and informed planning for each component is integral for architectural designers to come up with a well designed building within the site.

When you are designing building layouts, it is good to think about spaces within the building as zones that connect, overlap and sometimes overpower each other in a specific way - depending on the user requirements, type of function and scale.

By reading the following sections, my hope is that you have a better understanding of the various requirements and considerations you need to think about when you are designing building layouts both in plan and section.

Post contents:

Parameters & Constraints
Cores (Functional / Structural)
Fire Safety

Parameters & Constraints

A guiding principle for all buildings is that there is always parameters and constraints with regards to the bounding box of the building massing.

Things to note and establish include:

  • Perimeter
  • Total length
  • Length of longest facade for adjacent driveway
  • Area
  • Per floor
  • Entire building (Gross floor area/Accessible floor area)
  • Height
  • Below maximum height allowed by authority (AMSL)
  • Number of floors & Floor-to-floor height
  • Cubical Extents
  • Overall cubical extents for fire engine access-way calculations
  • Footprint
  • Facade area / openings
  • Minimise exposure to west by either rotating the building or angle the facade plane away.

Once these constraints are established, it is good for us establish more aspects of the building. See the next few sections for more details.

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Parameters in Building Design

Cores - Functional & Structural

“Cores” are defined as the basic building blocks for all multi-storey buildings. They are also typically found at each floor at the same location such that they stack vertically throughout the building.

The result of this are coherent structural cores, and optimal design of the provision of basic services for each storey - by preventing any unnecessary and excess horizontal service lines. These cores can also act as one of the main structure anchoring the buildings.

Load-bearing walls make up most of these vertical cores and house the following functions:

  • Lifts/Elevators
  • Staircases
  • Service Risers
  • Mechanical - Water, Gas, Sewerage
  • Fire safety - Dry/Wet Riser
  • Electrical - Comms, Telephone, Cables
  • Toilets

These cores are typically placed symmetrically for ease of design (ie one core on each side or centre core)

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Cores in Building Design



“Program” refer to the activity or what people will do in a given space within the building.

Things to note include:

  • Type of occupancy (retail, office, industrial, dormitory/accommodation, storage/warehouse, hazardous materials storage/processing, public space)
  • User routines/journeys
  • Area and height for each program space
  • Proximity to cores
  • Hierarchy
  • Sequence (which program space comes first?)
  • Permanent vs temporary program
  • Program spilling into circulation spaces (more on that in the next section)

In conclusion, the type, size and location of these program zones should be discussed early with the various stakeholders early in the design.

Learn more about Circulation & Program

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Programatic zoning in building design


“Circulation” refers to the movement within the building.

Things to note for circulation include:

  • Origin & Destination
  • Point A to Point B (recall journey from Program)
  • Branch or network of paths
  • Direction
  • Linear or Organic
  • Horizontal or Vertical (or a combination of both)
  • Direct vs Messy
  • Magnitude
  • Width of space catering to the size of crowd or signalling hierarchy
  • Length
  • Journey & Experience
  • Welcoming space
  • Public vs private routes
  • Types
  • Staircases
  • Corridors
  • Lifts
  • Open Space
  • Ramps

Learn more about Circulation & Program

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Circulation in Building Design

Fire Safety

When it comes to fire safety, there are three aspects to take note of -
Travel Distance, Occupant Load and Means of Escape:

Travel Distance

  • Distance from the remote point to exit door fronting protected corridor/exit staircase
  • One-way vs two-way escape
  • Number of exit doors

Occupant load and means of escape

  • Width of corridors and staircases must comply with Fire Code
  • Protected corridors
  • Internal or external exit passageway
  • Internal or external exit staircases
  • Adequate number of exit staircases for each storey

Learn more about the Fire Code.

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Fire Safety in Building Design



Apart from fulfilling the user requirements for the building, there should be consideration for the comfort one experiences while being the building. This includes thermal comfort and lighting.

Things to note include the following:

  • Position and size of openings
  • Cross ventilation across circulation spaces, or air wells
  • Orientation of building - avoid west-facing openings as far as possible
  • Utilising facade shading strategies, such as overhangs and vertical fins to shield
  • Daylighting strategies  - through skylights or floor-to-ceiling openings
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Climate Considerations in Building Design


In conclusion, architects should work to establish the various parameters and typologies of spaces with all stakeholders - client, users, engineers from the civil/structural, mechanical and electrical disciplines to obtain a holistic building design.

A proper building design is integral in order to have a smooth design & construction process as well as a comfortable & safe occupant experience.

That's it for building design.

Do comment below if I have missed out anything and share this post with someone who might benefit from learning this.