Spencer Barnes

Submitted For
Module 3 - Points to Ponder
Please share your comments on 3 of the following Points to Ponder questions. (Choose 3 of the questions below.)

Why is it important to accurately model the land features of your project site with a toposurface?

Accurately modeling the features of a project site using a toposurface is important because it allows clients to envision how the building with interface with the landscape and enables designers to estimate the amount of terraforming needed to complete a project. By having the building model integrated with the landscape, clients can get a better idea of how the design fits into the broader context of the world around it. For instance, if a building is placed between two sleep hills, clients can imagine what views are accessible through the windows and request changes if desired. Furthermore, integrating a toposurface lets designers terraform the landscape to their liking. When the time comes to evaluate the amount of excavating or grading that needs to be done, the building model becomes a crucial source for estimation.

  • What aspects of a building design are most affected by the terrain features?

In general, the foundation and lowest floor are most affected by the terrain features. The foundation is crucial to the overall structural integrity and can be greatly influenced by the terrain material and topography. The lowest floor is also typically influenced by the terrain because, depending on the design, the earth can press directly against the walls. Moreover, the lowest floor can also be exposed to seepage and erosion. The vacation home in module 3 exhibited all of these challenges.

When designing a project...

  • Should the building adapt to the terrain?
  • Or, should you adapt the terrain to the building?

While there are merits to both approaches, I personally advocate adapting the building to fit the terrain for three main reasons: (1) forced creativity, (2) ecological preservation, and (3) aesthetics.

Because each site is different, designers are forced to customize their buildings. This change can often lead to unique designs that would never have been considered otherwise. For instance, the Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum consists of a series of buildings with green roofs and jagged corners—mimicking the earthquake itself and meshing with the existing topography. While it is possible that the designers would have come up with a similar scheme without the existing landscape, I argue that forced adaptation breeds these kinds of ideas.

By designing to fit the terrain, buildings also reduce their environmental footprint. When incorporated with the natural landscape, buildings typically have more green space and leave existing foliage. The global “hobbit home” phenomenon is a good example of this (see picture below).


Finally, I personally believe that topography-integrated buildings are more aesthetically pleasing. In contrast to the sharp-edged geometric shapes common in most buildings, topography-integrated buildings exhibit more freeform, organic geometry that intrigues the viewer and invites further exploration.

One major drawback to topography-integrated buildings is cost. All of the aforementioned customizations can quickly become expensive; however, when the cost can be tolerated, the final product can be significantly improved.

What considerations affect a project team's decision-making when deciding the floor-to-floor height to use in a multi-story building?

  • From a real estate developer's perspective?
  • From a designer's perspective?
  • From an engineer's perspective?
  • From a builder's perspective?
  • From an owner's perspective?

What are the advantages of stacking the levels of a multi-story building vertically?

  • Can you share an interesting example of a building that doesn’t vertically stack (where the floor plates change their shaped radically between the floor levels)?
  • What were the advantages or reasons for non-vertical stacking?

Why do stairs follow specific proportions with a set relationship between the tread length and riser height?

  • How can building modeling help prevent the mistakes that often occur when designing and installing stairs?

Describe a case when it would be worthwhile to create a new custom component in Revit… How do you decide when customize versus using readily available components?

It would be worthwhile to create a custom component in Revit when you cannot find an object that is crucial to your design and there are no good substitutes. For example, suppose your design incorporates a large spiral-shaped window. This window is supposed to be a central feature of your building and you cannot find a similar window online or in the built-in Revit library. In this case, I would model the window using a custom component.

In general, I would avoid making a custom component because it adds additional time and complexity that is often unnecessary when pitching an initial concept. With that being said, I would consider three criteria when deciding whether to create a custom component: availability, substitution, and complexity.

Availability: Can you find the part online? If so, don’t worry about creating a custom one.

Substitution: Is there a reasonable substitute available? If so, don’t create a custom one.

Complexity: Do you have the ability to model the part? If it is too complex, reach out to someone with more knowledge or modify your design.