Thoughts on Floor Plate's Evolution

Ever since multistory building came into being, optimal floor plate has been a major challenge. Deciding factors have been building's functionality, sun exposure and efficiency, ventilation, life safety egress as well as aesthetics in facade design. Building typology is another influencing factor since certain building usage requires certain floor plan configuration, which has also evolved through time.

The Chicago Marshall Field building’s typical floor plate is about 925 SM in size with a courtyard and 100% sunlight efficiency. The Seagram building by Mies Van Der Rohe has about 1400 SM in its floor plate. Modern office suite, openoffice and complete indoor environmental control have made possible to have very large floor plate. The Chicago American Standard Oil building is 3180 SM with only 25% sunlight efficiency.

When buildings grow taller, structural strength and life safety egress become more critical for the design of floor plate. The locations of shear wall and central structural and circulation core have taken floor plate to a head-spin. Stringent fire code also dictates maximum distances from the furthermost point on the floor to a protected egress staircase. This restricts floor plate to a certain limitation of change. Because highrise and super-high rise towers are expensive to build, many times designers have to weigh in the economics of leasable area to also determine a relatively optimal floor plate. That of course is always a big challenge.    

In recent decades, office buildings have undergone a variation of floor plate changes. There had been a pattern from small floor plate to large and recently to small again. Influenced by green building ideology, small office floor plate are becoming fashionable. With properly designed configuration, it is possible to have completely breathing buildings with natural sunlight and ventilation.

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