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What Is a Building Design?

By Maggie Worth
Updated May 17, 2024
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A building design is the plan according to which a home or other building is constructed. This includes both the interior and exterior of the structure. It can include functional elements, such as plumbing and electrical schematics, as well as decorative details, such as finish specifications. Formal building design plans, often called blueprints, are usually created by architects and must often be filed with local governmental agencies before construction can legally begin.

A number of professionals are commonly involved in building design. This includes architects, who commonly draw up the plans, as well plumbers, HVAC professionals and electricians. Complex buildings, such as high rise apartments or commercial buildings, may also require the services of an engineer. A surveyor also may be needed to evaluate the plot of land on which the structure is intended to be built, and a landscape architect might develop a plan for the surrounding property. Additionally, an interior designer may select finishes such as flooring, counters and cabinets.

In some cases, building design is primarily functional. This is especially true of industrial buildings and structures, such as fire stations, schools and police houses. These types of buildings serve very specific functions, and the designs must incorporate everything needed to fulfill those functions. This includes electrical requirements demanded by the heavy machinery common in manufacturing plants and adequate plumbing to supply sprinkler systems or multiple rest rooms.

In other buildings, the design is highly decorative. This includes buildings that require a high level of aesthetic appeal, such as museums, restaurants, retail shops and more. In these cases, use of building materials can be very important to the overall design. Metals, woods and glass can be used to create dynamic designs that are not merely functional, but also attractive.

Most homes and office buildings require an architect to achieve a balance between functionality and aesthetics. Such building designs must be welcoming, but must also take into account important aspects such as building costs, power needs and usability. Many times, such plans can be used over and over again, both within the same neighborhood or office park and in other similar developments.

Regardless of the type of structure, the building design must conform to local codes. Codes are rules created by governmental and regulatory agencies to ensure that structures are soundly constructed. Such codes may specify things such as the required number and location of sprinkler systems in industrial buildings, providing handicapped accessibility in public buildings and the spacing between studs.

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Sep 13, 2011

The article talks about being able to reuse building designs in a neighborhood or nearby town. This got me thinking about copyrights on building design.

Once an architect or engineer makes a design, is that his intellectual property, and it can't be duplicated? Are blueprints filed in a copyright office somewhere?

I was just thinking that homes in suburbs, for instance, are all pretty similar (at least in the eastern United States). Do the companies that build houses on these properties all use the same blueprints, or do they all have different architects who just happen to design houses that are very similar, but different enough not to cause copyright infringement?

Suburbs were just the example that came to mind, but I've seen office buildings in different cities that look alike, too.

By TreeMan — On Sep 12, 2011

I figure most architects like designing homes, but I always thought if I was doing it I would be more interested in commercial building design.

Every time I am in a building, I always seem to notice things that I think could have been designed better to make them more functional. Maybe that is a sign of overlap between someone making plants for homes and then switching to office building design.

By JimmyT — On Sep 11, 2011

When someone decides to become an architect do they usually specialize in one area or another of building design? For example, would someone choose to design office buildings and do that for a careers, or do most architects design both residential and commercial buildings?

Also, how is all of the building design coordinated? I know at least in residential homes, there is usually some type of contractor who is in charge of the building getting constructed. Is this person usually in charge of the landscaping and interior design, too, or are these types of things the responsibility of the building owner?

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