Using FAR

6m 24s

In this ARE 5.0 NCARB-approved Project Planning and Design Exam Prep course you will learn about the topics covered in the ARE 5.0 PPD exam division. A complete and comprehensive curriculum, this course will touch on each of the NCARB objectives for the ARE 5.0 Project Planning and Design Exam.

Instructor Mike Newman will discuss issues related to the generation or evaluation of design alternatives that synthesize environmental, cultural, behavioral, technical and economic issues.

When you are done with this course, you will have a thorough understanding of the content covered in the ARE 5.0 Project Planning and Design Exam including design concepts, sustainability/environmental design, universal design, and other forms of governing codes and regulations. 

When we talk about using the zoning code, one of the terms we've used a number of times already is the FAR, the floor area ratio and it's an important concept. It's not always gonna be called FAR. Some locations might use a slightly different terminology, but most places will call it FAR, and it's the way of relating a site's area, so if we have a site and we're gonna build a building on it, we can say, alright, let's say we're gonna build that building and footprint right there, and we wanna control the overall mass of that structure, so we can relate the number of square footage of the floor, how many square feet of floor we have through this whole building, we could relate that to the area of the site, so we have the site area and we are relating it to the building area, and we put that as a ratio and then that is a very useful number for us to be able to, say, if the zoning department says you have a floor area ratio of two, that means you can build two times the site area of buildable, enclosed interior area and so if we wanna have a really dense and big building in a neighborhood, we can say, alright, that FAR wants to be five or 10 or 12.

That means we'd be building 10 times, five times, 12 times the area of the site, so that becomes a very big building. It could be that we say no, this area, this district wants to be a very low intensity, a very quiet, a very family friendly place, a place where kids are running around the front yards. Well, in that case, we might say, alright, instead of it being a two or five of 12 or something like that, maybe the FAR is .5, where, you know, the total square footage we could build is half of the size of the lot.

Maybe it's .25, maybe it's .1. That would require you to have a bigger lot in order to have any building at all on there, and so that's a way of controlling that we can kinda keep the riffraff out. It's sort of an old school way that people used to control their neighborhoods, was by imposing these rules that would force people to have much bigger pieces of property, which meant that you had to be reasonably wealthy in order to do that, for better or for worse.

This concept of relating the buildable area to the site, what it's really about is relating the massing, the scale of something and it's about making sure that air and light can sort of flow around the building and get to the neighbors.

You know, if we think about this project, so what I've drawn here, maybe that's essentially a FAR of about one, so the square footage area of this whole site is demonstrated in this building, but you could also imagine that same project, and you know, maybe it's a two story building taking up half of the site, so we have a little bit of site area around.

We leave about half of the site open, but we've got two floors. Well, this is the same FAR. They both meet that FAR of one and you see very quickly that the tall one is gonna steal less sunlight closer by the building because I have a lot of space around the building and that sunlight's gonna get to the neighbors and you're gonna get air moving through, and then this other one, it's much more of a massive building, it's much wider and has a bigger footprint, but in this case, the sunlight's gonna go right over the top of that building because it's lower, by sheer fact that it's being designed by this ratio.

We're sort of holding it to this ratio, so I can make it bigger and wider but that means it's gonna be lower, or I can make it much, much taller. That means the footprint's gonna be smaller, so it's just a way of controlling that mass while still leaving a lot of flexibility for how people want to use their property.

In the old days, these things often went without any other restrictions. These days, there will probably still be some height restrictions and some other issues that get tied in with it as well, but it often didn't have that back in the mid part of the 20th century. One important thing to know is that this is all about the building that's above grade. This is not something trying to hold back the scale of your building.

You can actually build a very large building if you wanted to; it would just have to be below grade, which is obviously sort of ridiculous. So I could have many, many floors down below grade and it would not impact my FAR. The FAR is about the massing and the reason for that is that it's about the neighborhood. It's not trying to control how big a building you build. It's trying to make the massing of the building in the neighborhood fit to the neighborhood and allow light and vent and all of those things in sort of appropriate density to happen in that upper, above grade sense.

Whenever you're talking about this, you're only talking about the floor area that's above grade. As I said, not everywhere in the country uses FAR, but it is sort of a generally understood way of controlling that sense of mass and sort of finding ways that everybody in the neighborhood is sort of being friendly to each other by allowing the people to do the tall building if they want but then forces them to keep it in from the property lines, or allowing them to do the big wide building, but then it keeps it nice and low.

Either way, there's benefits for the neighbors, as well as freedom for the actual owner.

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From the course:
ARE 5.0 Project Planning & Design Exam Prep

Duration: 30h 57m

Author: Mike Newman