Planning a Modern Villa

We are prompted by architectural imagery to think of architecture as a visual art, like painting or sculpture. Online photos, in particular, are visual candies that provoke an immediate taste or distaste. But in truth the art of architecture is more clearly revealed when we look to a house’s floor plans instead of its photos. Floor plans remind us that we move through buildings one space at a time, and that those visual experiences have a sequence. And it is this element of time, so integral to all architectural experience, that makes architecture a narrative art as well.

Personally, I find floor plans to be captivating, but not everyone feels this way. Clients will tell me at the outset that they “just can’t read plans!” But I don’t believe them – I know, for instance, they can read those egress diagrams on the back of hotel room doors. So I suggest, instead, that they think of plans as the “plots” of three-dimensional novels. And plans, like plots, are the abstractions we architects invent to structure architectural experience. And this suggestion usually proves helpful.

Extending the analogy one step further, I also like to suggest (much later in the design process) that good floor plans have more in common with poetry than with prose. This idea has been helpful to clients as they struggle to negotiate the myriad choices. Clients today, for instance, often struggle with a conflict between the complex needs of their family and their attraction to a minimal aesthetic. Prose is less helpful in such situations, while poetry excels at reconciling contradiction.

Finally, another quality that architecture shares with poetry can be seen in its math. Poems have a tautness that entices us to read them again and again, and this allows us to find new meanings with each reading. Great buildings have this quality as well, drawing us back to them again and again. And in their plans we see how the math of everyday dimensions can be elevated to a more meaningful algebra. Dimensions tell a builder where to put a wall. But when raised to a philosophy, mathematics brings an abstract beauty all its own - of order and proportion - to construction. And it is at this level, I believe, that good floor plans, even in modest houses, put us in touch with the timeless and ideal. 

We are prompted by architectural imagery to think of architecture as a visual art, like painting or sculpture. Online photos, in particular, are visual candies that provoke an immediate taste or distaste. But in truth the art of architecture is more clearly revealed when we look to a house’s floor plans instead of its photos. Floor plans remind us that we move through buildings one space at a time, and that those visual experiences have a sequence. And it is this element of time, so integral to all architectural experience, that makes architecture a narrative art as well.

Personally, I find floor plans to be captivating, but not everyone feels this way. Clients will tell me at the outset that they “just can’t read plans!” But I don’t believe them – I know, for instance, they can read those egress diagrams on the back of hotel room doors. So I suggest, instead, that they think of plans as the “plots” of three-dimensional novels. And plans, like plots, are the abstractions we architects invent to structure architectural experience. And this suggestion usually proves helpful.

Extending the analogy one step further, I also like to suggest (much later in the design process) that good floor plans have more in common with poetry than with prose. This idea has been helpful to clients as they struggle to negotiate the myriad choices. Clients today, for instance, often struggle with a conflict between the complex needs of their family and their attraction to a minimal aesthetic. Prose is less helpful in such situations, while poetry excels at reconciling contradiction.

Finally, another quality that architecture shares with poetry can be seen in its math. Poems have a tautness that entices us to read them again and again, and this allows us to find new meanings with each reading. Great buildings have this quality as well, drawing us back to them again and again. And in their plans we see how the math of everyday dimensions can be elevated to a more meaningful algebra. Dimensions tell a builder where to put a wall. But when raised to a philosophy, mathematics brings an abstract beauty all its own - of order and proportion - to construction. And it is at this level, I believe, that good floor plans, even in modest houses, put us in touch with the timeless and ideal.