On the face of it, commercial architecture and residential architecture might seem to involve the same process of design and construction. However, there's a world of difference in the way residential and commercial buildings are planned and designed. While residential architecture focuses on building a comfortable, safe and aesthetic home for a family, commercial buildings need to be designed to accommodate a much larger number of people, depending on the primary use of the building.
In India, besides office buildings, commercial architecture is used for schools, hospitals, shopping malls, government buildings, police stations, retail stores and restaurants. The purpose of the building influences the interior architecture. For example, a hospital needs in-patient rooms, operating theatres, waiting halls and a canteen, whereas a school needs several classrooms, an assembly hall, a gymnasium and a cafeteria. Besides suitable interior architecture, commercial buildings also need to provide a range of facilities, including escalators, elevators, parking structures, conference halls, public bathrooms, restaurant kitchens, cafeterias, food courts and more.
While any architect can design and build either a residential or a commercial building so long as the local laws and regulations are adhered to, it is advisable to hire a professional with ample experience in commercial architecture as the design and specifications can be quite different from what one expects in a residential building. The reason for this is that commercial buildings have more complex infrastructure needs.
What are the key differences between residential and commercial buildings?
The various factors that distinguish a commercial building from a residential building are:
Commercial architecture is used for buildings that are designed for commercial or non-residential activities. A residential building is planned with the intention of providing a home for the client or homeowner. In simple terms, commercial buildings are work or business spaces, whereas residential homes are used for living.
Commercial buildings have larger square footage than residential houses or apartments. While residential units can be built on a larger scale, especially when they are a part of a big complex or condominium, the size of each home or unit is still relatively small.
Due to the bigger structure, commercial buildings need larger beams to support the additional square footage and levels. Steel, glass and concrete are the most popular materials seen in the exterior structure of a modern commercial building. While commercial buildings have large glass facades with sliding doors at the entrance, residences have smaller windows and doors that are usually framed with wood.
Since commercial structures have a larger footfall, they need to follow stringent regulations to ensure the safety of the occupants. While safety is a concern even in residential buildings, the building codes are not as demanding as those for commercial buildings.
5. Client involvement
In the case of a residential dwelling, the homeowner has a lot of emotional involvement in the process. As a result, the home reflects the personality of the owner. In commercial architecture, the building is designed according to specifications given by the client. The architect interacts less frequently with the client. The company's logo or image could provide inspiration for the design or architecture of a commercial building.
Residential houses are owned by individuals, whereas commercial buildings usually belong to companies.
What is the process involved in designing commercial buildings?
Unlike a residential construction, where the architect designs a house for the client's plot of land, in commercial architecture, the first step is to identify a suitable location for the client's requirements. Due to the large expenditure that is characteristic of commercial architecture, it's common to have a bidding process to hire a contractor as well as to get an idea of the project cost.
Next is the design stage, which usually involves the following:
1. The architect and contractor meet at the initial planning and design stage to ensure that the building plan takes into consideration all the various building codes and regulations.
2. In the next stage, the architect works on the building program to identify the functional needs, decide on the size of the building, the number of rooms, the purpose for which each area will be utilized as well as the number of people using it.
3. Following this, the feasibility of the building is determined to ensure that the right orientation, accessibility, connectivity to utility services and other significant aspects that can influence architectural design.
4. Next, a schematic drawing is prepared to give the client or company an idea of the visual image of the building once it is completed.
5. After this, the design development process begins to research and identify the types of materials as well as the equipment that will be used in the construction. An estimate of the build cost is worked out based on this information.
6. In the final part of the design process, the complete set of working drawings are prepared. This serves as a guide to the contractor and builders during the construction process. Simultaneously, a contract is drawn up with timelines and costs, based on which payments are scheduled either after a stage of the build is completed or after a specified time.
Following the design stage, is the preconstruction phase, which involves getting quotes from various vendors and contractors. For commercial projects, it's customary to get at least three quotes for comparison and analysis before the budget is prepared. During this time, all the necessary building permits should be obtained and insurance formalities completed.
Next is the procurement stage, during which all the materials and labour required for the project are purchased. The purchases are supported by a purchase order or an agreement between the seller and the buyer to ensure that the materials meet the required specifications at an agreed price.
Last is the construction phase, wherein the actual build process commences, starting with the groundbreaking, excavation, erecting the structure and all other aspects of the exterior and interior design. The final stage involves a walk through with the client to rectify small defects such as broken tiles or chipped surfaces. Once the build ends, the final inspection needs to be conducted by an official from the building authority before he certifies the commercial building to be ready for occupancy.
How is the role of a commercial interior designer different from that of a residential one?
A residential interior designer considers the personal preferences and the lifestyle of the homeowner and his family when designing the home. As a result, the interiors reflect the owner's personality. The home needs to be designed so that it balances aesthetics with functionality. Overall, home interior design is a simple process as the use of each room remains relatively the same from one house to another.
In the case of a commercial building, the priority is functionality. Therefore the interiors need to be designed ergonomically to allow people to work comfortably and move around freely. The interiors should reflect the company's or brand's image. The challenge of commercial interior design is that the design needs to adapt significantly depending on the use of the building. For instance, the interior design of a bar and club might be casual and cheerful, whereas that of a clinic should be sober and classy.
How does one choose a suitable commercial architecture or interior design professional?
Like with houses, word of mouth and references are the best way to identify the right commercial architect or interior designer for a project. Additionally, it's always best to visit some of their completed projects to get a feel of the quality and finish of the build. Alternatively, viewing photographs or images of projects will give a fair idea of the skills of a professional.