Design fundamentals

Architectural designer Jon McAlpine heads Thorne Group Architecture and was the recipient of five awards at the regional Architectural Designers New Zealand awards recently.

The homes entered demonstrated a phenomenal diversity, showcasing what he is capable of. Here, Jon shares the design fundamentals he strives for.

While the style and size of each home may differ considerably, l apply certain design principles to each home, from the overall design concept through to the detailed
design drawings.

1. Combining form with function

A covered outdoor area can be shelter from prevailing winds and sun angles, however it also often completely changes the elevation. Detailing under the soffits can further enhance the overall design.

Make flexible spaces by using feature doors and movable ‘walls’ to create different ‘zones’.

Doing this not only creates a design feature, but from a functional element allows the different areas to be utilised more often for different purposes.

A window seat, placed correctly, can create another whole entertaining area.
The Thorne Group showhome utilised American oak within the detailing to add to the architectural design feature.

Using the ceiling space to create the illusion of more space lets in more natural light as well as creating an eyecatching feature.

Entrances can really make a statement.

I often like to draw people into the home with specific materials, and there is often a
lot of scope to create an architectural element from the entrance.

2. Eliminate dead space

Hallways are generally a fundamental requirement in designing a home.

Obviously reducing the amount of hallway length is beneficial, but turning a hallway into a design element and creating an exciting linking space is good design.

For example, a full-height window at the end of a hallway – a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – connects the interior to the exterior and turns a cold, dark, unwelcoming space into a bright, interesting feature gallery space.

3. Optimising passive solar energy

Each home should be designed for the local climate and site conditions to maximise the home owner’s comfort and health while minimising energy use.

We are able to achieve this via the correct placement of windows and doors, and the angles of roof lines and eaves.

This is extremely hard to achieve with a ‘set plan’ as often the smallest adjustment in angles can have a big influence on the overall effectiveness of passive solar energy.

4. Costings

While we would all like to have an unlimited budget, even those with significant budgets still want to stick to them! This requires a thorough understanding of construction costs from the start of the project. We are in constant communication with project managers from the get-go and are regularly out on site.

My design team and I have massive insight into ensuring the most efficient allocation of materials and labour from the initial design stages, right through to completion.

In addition, working with a quantity surveyor based in-house means that there are no big surprises with costs, especially in situations where you may need to make late changes to plans.

5. Construction drawings

People often have the assumption that a floor plan with basic measurements is all that is required, but there are so many complicated aspects to the detailing process.

It’s the little details, the understanding of how in the practical sense, plans on paper relate to the practicality on site.

It is working with a broader team to mitigate potential problems, as well as ensuring materials and labour are maximised and minimising wastage on site.

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