Apr 10

ARE – Building Layout Vignette

The ARE Building Layout Vignette is the second section of the schematic design exam. The schematic design section of the ARE is the only division that does not have a multiple-choice section. Instead, candidates are asked to solve 2 different graphic vignettes that both relate to planning and schematic design.

Since there is no multiple-choice section on this ARE exam division, each vignette is separated and can only be completed in the designated time period. Candidates will first be asked to solve the interior layout vignette followed by the building layout vignette after a scheduled break.

As we will get in to, the building vignette and the interior vignette both occur at different scales in order to test a candidates ability to solve similar issues at different levels of design. A lot of the same principles apply to both vignettes yet each one will have its own unique set of challenges.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know for the building layout:


The building layout vignette requires candidates to plan and design a 2-story
building that includes 15-20 programmed spaces with various adjacency requirements.

For this vignette, you will be given 4 hours to complete your design which must meet various program and code requirements. Having 4 hours to complete your vignette is definitely the longest vignette out of all exam divisions, but that time will fly by with all of the different rules you need to meet.


You will be given quite a bit of information for the building vignette that you may need to come up with your own system or organizing the information. In the NCARB software, you would have to constantly flip back and forth between the drawing screen and the program screen in order to get all of the information that you need to solve this problem.

To help alleviate this problem, many people have come up with techniques for writing down all of the program information on your scratch paper to help save you time. On other vignettes, this is not necessary because the given information is not that thorough; however, the building layout vignette provides detailed information about each room and gets quite lengthy.

Here’s a breakdown of the given information that you’ll most likely be provided with on the exam:

– Room name of all 15-20 rooms
– Square footage of each room
– Specific requirements for each space (adjacency with other rooms/placement in building/etc)
– Required code information

The most important set of information that is given to you are the program requirements of each space. The number of requirements for each space varies depending on the room. For example, some rooms may require just an exterior view while another room may specify which floor of the building you must place that space on.

Coming up with an adjacency matrix or diagram is a good idea for organizing this information because some requirements will specify which rooms must be adjacent to one another. In addition, it’s important to stick to the required square footage that is given in the program. The program may specify a specific tolerance of how close you can get to the required square footage so it’s important to stay within those guidelines.

Elements To Include:

The ARE Building Layout Vignette will require quite a bit of manipulation of elements once they are placed in the drawing. Since there are 15-20 rooms that need to be placed in the design, a lot of time will be spent changing the shape of these rooms using the NCARB software. This will probably be the most time consuming part of the 4 hours that you get for the vignette.

Some other elements you’ll need to include are:

– Rooms (walls are created when you place the element in the program)
– Doors (door swings matter, see the code)
– Windows (depending on the program)

In the NCARB software, you can place each “room” on the drawing and then begin modifying the shape of the room. Once all the rooms are in place, you can also place a room called “corridor” which will fill in the remaining spaces that you have called “circulation” in your planning.

With so many elements needed in this vignette, it’s a good idea get them all in the drawing at the correct square footage so you have an idea of the size. As you start working your design further, you can adjust the shape of the room more specifically.


With so much freedom on this ARE vignette, there are many different strategies for completing this vignette within 4 hours. It’s highly recommended that you come up with a solid routine for solving this vignette that you are comfortable with.

This schematic design vignette certainly won’t be solved on your first attempt. You will need to modify your solution and play around with different ideas until you have reached a solution that satisfy all of the requirements.

I’ve said this on other vignettes and I’ll say it again, NCARB doesn’t give you extra points for an award-winning building in this vignette. All they care about is that you satisfy all of the program and code requirements that are given to you.

With that in mind, keep your design as simple as you can. Since this is a 2-story building, it’s especially important to keep a simple shape so you can easily repeat elements on both floors.

In addition to this strategy, here are some more things to keep in mind as you try to figure out this vignette:

  • Read through the program and take very detailed notes. The method of note taking is up to you but it’s recommended that you come up with a strategy that works best for you. This will save you time instead of flipping back and forth between the drawing and the requirements.
  • Keep the building a simple shape. The most popular method of laying out the building is a double loaded corridor. This is the most efficient solution that allows all spaces to have access to the corrdior.
  • Keep rooms generally square and avoid any “L” shaped rooms or corridors.
  • Avoid dead-end corridors per the code requirements!
  • Place the rooms with the most restrictive requirements first and then fit in the more flexible spaces later. This will help you nail down the locations of the prominent rooms.
  • Make sure all door swings are in the proper direction per the code. You will want to make sure that doors do not swing into the corridor unless it needs multiple exits from that room. This should be more clear in the code requirements on your vignette.
  • Make sure similar elements line up on both floors. Keeping the elevator lined up is critical as well as any double-height spaces. To help keep the 2nd floor lined up with the first, it’s recommended that you use the “layer” tool to turn on the background image.
  • Be prepared to adjust your solution many times. Like I said before, you won’t come up with your solution the first attempt. It’s more efficient to start very broad and work your way through the problem. You will have to coordinate between the requirements, 1st floor layout, and 2nd floor layout to come up with a solution that meets all program and code requirements.

Even though this is just one of the ARE schematic design vignettes, a lot of the same principles will apply to the interior layout so it’s important to become familiar with these techniques. For the other vignette, you will have to apply similar planning principles but to a more magnified scale of an interior space.

The interior layout vignette will ask you to arrange 4-5 interior rooms along with a corresponding furniture layout. There is very limited time to complete this vignette that has many of the same code and adjacency constraints as we have seen in the building layout vignette.

For a similar breakdown of the ARE Interior Layout Vignette, see here.

Additional Tips & Practice Exams

For a full breakdown of the ARE Building Layout Vignette, please see the ebook that I’ve created to help you out. This ebook consists of step-by-step instructions, practice programs, and personal thoughts and advice to passing this section of the ARE.

Personally, I believe that many people fail exam divisions because they don’t spend enough time studying the ARE graphic vignettes. Granted, the multiple choice is just as difficult and time needs to be spent preparing for that section as well, but many people leave studying for the vignette until the last minute. These ebooks have been created to help better prepare you for the graphic vignette sections of the ARE.

Please stay tuned for more information on how to access the ebook.