9 Spatial Organization Principles to Follow While Designing

When we begin zoning the spaces to fit the needs and environment of the site, it gets easy to end up with a design with no structure. 

Spatial Organization is a way to tie the spaces together to create a collective and organized whole. This can be done both on the micro-level with the floor plan zoning and circulation and at the macro level on the site. 

Why Spatial Organization?

For every building, there are specific needs that need to be fulfilled. Spatial organization can aid in problem-solving to come up with effective design solutions. 

  • Climate considerations and zoning based on the needs of the site.
  • Site-level future expansion considerations.
  • Access paths and circulation needs of the site. 
  • Privacy and security of the spaces on the site.
  • Functional segregation of spaces in the design.
  • Dimensional requirements of each space.
  • Site context and the surrounding environment. 
  • Organization based on the significance of each space.

In the book Form, Space and Order by Francis DK Ching, Spatial Organization has been subdivided based on the fundamentals into 4 different parts. 

9 Principles of Spatial Organization

  1. Space within space
  2. Adjacent space
  3. Interlocking spaces
  4. Spaces linked by a common space

Macro Level:

  1. Centralized Organization
  2. Linear Organization
  3. Radial Organization
  4. Clustered Organization
  5. Grid Organization

1. Space Within Space

This is when the design calls for containing smaller-sized spaces within one large space. 

a. Enveloped

A large space can envelop smaller spaces inside the building to promote visual continuity.

b. Three-dimensional field

The larger space acts as a three-dimensional field for the smaller spaces inside of it. 

c. Contrasting orientation

By orienting the smaller space in the opposite direction to the larger space, the space created becomes dynamic.

d. Freestanding

By differing the functionality of both spaces, special attention is drawn to a particular space.

2. Adjacent Space

This is when two different spaces are placed next to each other and hence share a common boundary.

a. Separating plane

A plane, either completely or partially covered, that separates both the space helps differentiate the spaces.

b. Row of columns

By choosing to separate the two spaces with the help of columns, not only does it promote visual separation, but also spacial continuity at the same time. 

c. Change in level

Spatial separation can be achieved for two adjacent spaces through a simple level difference.

3. Interlocking Spaces

This is when two spaces overlap each other to some degree, creating a connection between them both. 

a. Shared equally

The portion that is interlocked can be equally shared by both spaces.

b. Merge volume

The interlocked spaces can take away from the volume of the existing spaces.

c. Creation of a new space

The interlocked portion can be converted into its own space that helps link both the existing spaces. 

4. Spaces Linked by a common space

This is when two spaces rely on an external common space to form a relationship with each other. 

a. Linear spaces 

The spaces have identical shapes and forms and are linearly arranged.

b. Distant spaces linked linearly

The linear form itself can be considered as the intermediate space between two distant spaces. 

c. Dominant intermediate space

The intermediate space is the largest among the existing spaces and becomes the dominant space.

d. Residual intermediate space

The spaces resulted from the way in which the existing spaces are arranged and formed.

Macro Spatial Organization Types

1. Centralized Organization

The central space takes hierarchy, around which other spaces are placed. The circulation is often in the form of radial, loop or spiral. 

  1. Regular
  2. Symmetrical about its axis
  3. Difference based on requirements 
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome showing Centralized Organization
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

The plan of the St. Peter’s basilica was centralized with symmetrical spatial arrangements on either side.

2. Linear Organization

A sequence of repetitive spaces is arranged in a linear format and are often alike in form and function. 

  1. Straight
  2. Curved
  3. Segmented
Terraced Housing, Frankfurt showing Linear Organization
Terraced Housing, Frankfurt

The arrangement of the residence at this Housing community in Frankfurt are made in a linear fashion with repetitive modules. 

3. Radial Organization

The central space is dominant and the rest of the spaces spread out radially from the central axis.

  1. Pinwheel pattern
  2. Circular pattern
The Matrimandir in Auroville, Pondicherry showing Radical Organization
Auroville, Pondicherry

The plan of Auroville was designed with the dominating sphere-like structure at its center with the other buildings and courtyards around it. 

4. Clustered Organization

Spaces are grouped randomly but with close visual or physical proximity to each other.

  1. Repetitive spaces
  2. Organized by an axis
  3. Similarly shaped
  4. Sharing a common circulation path
  5. Contained within a space
  6. Axial or symmetrical
Sydney Opera House, Australia showing Clustered organization
Sydney Opera House, Australia, Photo by Jeremy Bishop 

The major elements, although repetitive, are different in size and are placed in close proximity. Although the buildings share a common axis and circulation spaces, they are not symmetrical. 

5. Grid Organization

Spaces are placed in an ordered structural grid creating a three-dimensional framework. They are often in the form of repetitive modules.

  1. Regular or symmetrical
  2. Irregular with varying dimensions
  3. Interrupted grid pattern
Himeji Castle, Japan showing grid organization
Himeji Castle, Japan

The plan contains long and narrow buildings with varying shapes placed in an irregular, but grid-like manner. 

With spatial organization, putting the pieces together to create a completely zoned design is an important step in design zoning. 

Attempting multiple modules before settling on one can help us better visualize and improve the space to be designed.

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9 Spatial Organization Principles to Follow While Designing