DESIGN IN A BUBBLE: HOW TO CREATE FLOOR PLANS WHEN YOU CANT EVEN DRAW
We are going to dive much deeper into design and begin brainstorming layouts on the site. To do this we need to draw ‘bubble diagrams’.
Bubble diagrams allow you to play around with the location of rooms and explore how the different spaces interact, before committing to any ‘proper’ design. They also help you to organise your ideas and begin to think visually about the project.
Don’t worry – there are no wrong answers!
These diagrams should be quick and messy. Nobody is going to see them so don’t worry about how they look. This is simply a process of pushing and pulling the various parts. We can massage them together later.
You really don’t need much to start sketching.
I would recommend the following:
- A list of spaces and spatial qualities for your new home (see this article)
- An analysis of your chosen site and a site strategy (see this article)
- Photocopies of your site plan or some tracing paper (recommended) so that you can overlay several sketches as your ideas develop.
- Thick markers or felt-tips for drawing the bubbles, plus a thinner pen for labelling the spaces.
- A red or different colour pen to illustrate links between spaces, views out or other relevant features.
The Zoning Diagram
The process starts with a zoning diagram. This is a very basic layout defining the major spaces (or types of spaces) and their relationship to each other and the site.
At this stage you should be thinking in groups of rooms, like public spaces that you want guests to see (eg. Entry, Kitchen, Dining, Lounge, Guest Bathroom) and more private spaces that you don’t want them to see (Family Room, Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Study etc).
You might also think about zoning passive (bedrooms) and active (living,cooking,dining) areas separately. You could zone off quiet and noisy spaces, open and closed rooms, or even for adult and children zones.
It really depends on your needs, your site and your aspirations for the project.
Sketch or shade these zones on your site pan or a tracing paper overlay. Refer to your site analysis to ensure you find the best location for each.
You wont get it right first time – just keep sketching.
You may find that you have several options, each with their own set of benefits and compromises. This is good – it is much better to have too many ideas than not enough!
Once you have a rough idea of zoning, see if you can make the ‘plan’ a bit more compact. Exterior wall area is a major contributor to the overall cost of your home and we want to design and build the most efficient house we can. Repeat this process after each stage and as you continuously refine your design.
The Bubble Diagram
Next, refer back to the list of spaces in your brief and draw a circle or bubble to represent each room. Don’t worry too much about size or scale, that can come later, this is more about locations and relationships.
Using your site plan as a base, start to group the rooms or functional bubbles that you think will work best together (e.g. cooking & eating or washing & sleeping).
Make sure you also consider the specific requirements of your site. Organise important spaces to take advantage of sunlight and views. Also, consider privacy, local sources of noise and any breezes or prevailing winds across the site.
If you are thinking about building a house with more than one storey then you will need to overlay layers of tracing paper for each floor. It is important to understand how the rooms will sit on top of one another as well as side by side.
Don’t forget to include circulation areas, storage and any staircases.
Think about what you want to be looking at in the various spaces. Do you want to have views in or out? Are the rooms open or private? Do you want to be able to see into other spaces in the house? (visual links are just as important as physical ones)
PRO-TIP: One good trick is to try ‘walking’ yourself through the diagram as if it were a real house. Start at the entry area and locate each of the rooms in the order that you would want to experience them.
If you get stuck, you could also try drawing a bubble diagram for your current house, noting how the various spaces are arranged, and how they relate to one another physically and visually. Once you have done one – it is always easier to do another!
You will have to move the bubbles around a bit to make it work the way you want. However, the diagram you create will be a close representation of the plan of your future house. I don’t know about you, but I think thats pretty exciting!
Fireplace as Focal Point
For centuries the fireplace or hearth was the most important part of any home, around which everything else was arranged. In modern times this seems to have unfortunately been replaced by the TV, but a fireplace remains a useful organising device when planning your home.
Consider if you will have a fireplace or wood-burner in your home and include it in your diagrams.
This can be used to divide larger spaces into distinct ‘zones’ – such as between dining and living areas where both might benefit from the fire.
Burst Your Bubble
Once you have a pretty good bubble diagram for your new home, the next step is to put it to the test.
Think about how you and your family actually live and consider various scenarios in everyday family life (eg. cooking dinner, bedtime routines, homework, laundry, overnight guests or rubbish/recycling).
For each of your chosen scenarios list each of the steps in the process.
Now walk through each scenario, step-by-step, superimposing the actions onto your ‘plan’ as you go.
Does the layout work well? Is it easy and convenient or do you find yourself jumping all over the place? Take notes of what doesn’t work and adjust your bubble diagrams accordingly.
Another Step Forward
Remember, these diagrams are just quick and simple methods to help you think and organise your thoughts. They will help you to be more firm in your decisions about how the spaces should be arranged, and more knowledgeable about how you want the various spaces to feel.
They are an important part of the design process, so give them careful consideration, but don’t stress over it. These diagrams are far from finished plans and your design will change many times before it is finalised.
Also, a well-designed building is not simply the result of a great plan that has been extruded into three dimensions. It is the successful combination of site, plan, massing and elevation, working together to produce the right result.
Let me know how you got on with this process in the comments box below. As ever, Id love to hear from you.