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Using Local Architects

Architects And Poor Local Design

Building design needs care and you must check what your architect is giving you. Here we look at many design features including livability, cost, safety,and other items you need to check before you start construction.

Find A Good International Architect

If you are going to build a new building or renovate an existing one it is a good idea to find a good architect to help you. Good architects understand living spaces and how to make them both beautiful and functional. There are some very clever people about, people that can take what may seem to be a straightforward job and do wonders with it by coming up with ideas you may never have thought of.

Unfortunately, like many things in life, it is a bit of a jungle out there and for every good architect there are a quite few whose skills may be lacking.

When selecting an architect take care. Make sure he/she is qualified. Ask to see samples of their work and, just to make sure, ask for addresses. Go and see their projects. Consider their work from various points of view: design, use of materials, does the building fit into the setting, building layout, structural design and liveability.

If you choose to use a local architect this may well save you some rather exorbitant fees. Some local architects are excellent while others may lack "international" experience and may need close monitoring and guidance. If you decide to leave everything to the architect you can only expect problems however if you are willing to get involved using a local architect can work out well however.

Carefully select your architect

The first thing is to make sure that the architect will not argue with you, will listen to what you want and is willing to work with you. A good architect will seek to give you what you want and not what he wants to design.

Then you need to get involved in the design process, start off with a concept drawing and make sure that ideas, particularly the room layout, suit you and your needs. Only when the concept drawing is right should you allow the architect to continue to prepare the IMB (building permit) drawings and then the detail design (working) drawings. Fix the fee before you start and avoid the fee being a proportion of total project cost.

Check the drawings

Once the detail drawings have been prepared you will need to go through them in detail and check that they are alright.

Things to check for

This is where working with a local architect needs particular care and attention. Having worked with a number of local architects here are some of the common issues I have come across when checking detail design drawings for clients:

The floor layout of a local house is often quite different from what we would expect in a contemporary "internationally designed" living space. For example in local houses living rooms are often small and dining rooms non existent. Staircases are often too narrow or too steep and step heights may be all wrong. You may find a lack of consideration for privacy and you may find wasted space particularly for corridors.

High ceilings keep rooms cool but they can also make a building appear out of proportion.

Views seem to be an unknown concept in Indonesia and you will often find that local houses do not take advantage of views or sunlight. Without windows in outside walls ventilation can also be a problem.

Be aware of the direction of the sun to make use of natural light in rooms or to keep rooms cool by providing shade on building walls.

It is common to find solar water heaters that have been installed facing in the wrong direction.

Water flows downhill (surprise, surprise) and roof and ground drainage needs to reflect this.

Heights particularly need to be thought about. Indonesian people are generally not as tall as foreigners and this may affect many aspects of design such as the heights of doorways, washbasins, kitchen benches, bathroom vanities, toilet seats, steps in staircases and seating. Will you have an Indonesian cooking for you?

Line of sight through buildings needs careful thought. Poor placement of doors or windows may result in a person sitting on the tut being visible from the front door, not good when important guests arrive.

In local houses bathroom floors are usually set a step lower than the rest of the house. This is because traditional local bathrooms were designed as wet bathrooms in which people washed themselves by standing in the middle of the bathroom floor and throwing copious amounts of water over themselves.

Contemporary international bathroom design utilises dry bathrooms in which washing is confined to a shower cubicle or a washbasin. The bathroom floor is usually set at the same height as the rest of the house and a floor drain is optional. In Britain many bathrooms are even carpeted.

Plumbing can be a major issue and most locally designed bathrooms have floor drains that do not have u bends and are also connected directly to the black water system (the sewer) giving the house a rather memorable odour.

Structure we have mentioned many times before. Architects and builders who follow local standards will often not bother getting soil tests done, they may use inadequate "cut and paste" foundation design or even no foundations at all. Soil tests are very important for foundation design especially if the building has more than one storey.

In local buildings structural columns and beams are often inadequate, get an engineer to advise.

Less obvious things to consider

There are some more obscure things you may also wish to consider.

Designing the swing of doors to maintain privacy. Here is an example: let us consider a North, South, East, West room with a door in the South East corner on the Southern wall. These days we often find that such a door would swing clockwise against the Eastern wall. This has a problem in that when the door opens the contents of the room are immediately revealed in full.

Traditional European design developed over centuries dictates that the door would open into the room (anticlockwise away from the Eastern wall in this case) so that anything happening in the room (perhaps someone undressing or participating in some private bedroom athletic activity) is not immediately visible and a warning cry can be issued before all is revealed. This is particularly important for toilet and bathroom doors. It should be noted that the placement of light switches must be reversed if the door swing is changed.

Window design also needs some mention. Many windows in Indonesia are swung from top hinges which means that they do not get the full benefit of passing breezes. Traditional Queensland design (it can be stinking hot in Queensland) sets the windows along house sides so that they open in such a way as to "scoop" prevailing winds into the house and so are able to take advantage of even the slightest breeze. In Bali prevailing winds are usually be from the South East (July August) and the South West (December January) so windows on the eastern side of the building should open outwards in an anticlockwise direction and clockwise on the western side. On the North and South sides they should be able to open fully. This is a fairly basic design concept but often forgotten.

Local builders and architects may use plywood or Kalsi board for ceilings. Kalsi board is a cement based fibre board which is white finished on one side and is very useful for finishing surfaces that may be exposed to dampness such as soffits in building eaves. Plywood and kalsi board are not really suitable for ceilings because the joints between the boards have a tendency to open leaving cracks in the ceilings. Modern ceilings are usually finished using plasterboard ( drywall to the yanks, gyprock to the Aussies and gypsum to the locals). They give a better finish and don't crack.

The height of electrical fittings also needs consideration. For some strange reason local building practice often places plug sockets a metre up walls. Plug sockets are better placed much lower to the ground.

Similarly light switches are often placed so high that height impaired people (such as young children) can?t reach them. These should also be lower.

Traditionally Indonesian people have always used squat toilets with water spray washers. For most Indonesian's toilet paper is a rather dirty concept). It is probably a good idea to provide both toilet paper and water spray for all toilets and to provide a squat toilet in the maid's room.

Safe building design

Finally safety can often be a blind spot for local architects and builders. Items you may need to check are:

  • Alway use tempered glass not ordinary glass for shower screens.
  • Make sure gas cylinders with their regulators are not in a kitchen, or any other room, that is not ventilated.
  • Use non slip floor tiles in bathrooms, verandahs or any other areas that may get wet.
  • Install RCBOs (electrical contact breakers with earth leakage detectors built in) instead of standard contact breakers on power circuits.
  • Make sure all electrical circuits are earthed (whatever your electrical contractor may tell you).
  • Make sure swimming pools have a shallow end with steps to get out. Swimming pool fences are a good idea and mandatory in Australia.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2016
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