Not to lord it over computer geeks, but us architects were programming since long before Wozniac, Univac, Eniac, and even Babbage. Of course, we’ve been doing it with buildings, not computers: “Programming” is architectspeak for the process of determining and organizing a project’s requirements. There’s no high-tech gear necessary—a pencil, paper, and some careful thought about your lifestyle is all it takes.
Why should someone pondering a new home or an addition bother with programming? Because, in a sense, the architectural program is the blueprint for the blueprints. Without it, you’ll be floundering in a million possibilities, with no starting point and nothing to guide your design.
Ergo, some programming basics:
• First, determine what kind of rooms you need. Make an honest analysis of the way you actually live, without allowing architectural fads or one-upmanship to color your thinking. For instance, if you’re not in the habit of hanging around in your bedroom a lot, it would be a colossal waste to have the sort of gigantic master suite found in most new homes these days. If you’ll actually use the space, fine; otherwise, forget it.
• Next, decide how big each room should be. Don’t pull sizes out of the air; instead, measure some similar rooms you’re already familiar with, and then adjust their size up or down to suit your needs. Always allow a little extra for errors, oversights, and just plain generosity--especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and staircases, whose space requirements are chronically underestimated by amateur planners.
On the other hand, don’t make rooms pointlessly oversized; huge spaces can be just as awkward and difficult to furnish as small ones, and they’re more expensive to boot.
• Finally, assign a hierarchy of importance to the rooms on your program, so that when you run into the inevitable planning conflicts, you’ll know which room has the better claim to space, views, sunlight, or your budget dollars.
Customarily, the largest rooms--living room, family room, master bedroom--get top billing. The kitchen, bathrooms, and secondary bedrooms are usually on the next tier, with the laundry, closets, and the garage bringing up the rear. However, your lifestyle may demand adjustments in these rankings. If you’re mad about cooking, for example, the kitchen should rightly go to the top of the list.
The only fairly inviolable rankings in this hierarchy pertain to solar orientation. In general, living areas that are occupied throughout the day should face south or nearly so. The kitchen can face east, south, or west, depending on when you use it most, although if it tends to serve as your family’s main gathering place, a southern exposure is probably best. A breakfast room should ideally face east for morning sun, and a dining room west for afternoon light.
Bedrooms should face either east, for those who like being awakened by direct sun, or west for those who don’t. North-facing bedrooms, and in fact any north-facing living area, will generally be gloomy, cold, and uninviting. Hence, the north side of the houseis best reserved for the garage--if street access allows it--and for storage, mechanical, and other rooms that aren’t inhabited.
Simple, no? End program.