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Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus~

David Hockney

For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid I have always had an interest in interior design. Thinking back, this is most likely a result of watching hours of design shows with my mom after school. Growing up I didn’t have an appreciation for what could be done with interior design as a career, I thought it was merely self-taught people that had an eye for design on TV. Because hosting my own TV show seemed a bit farfetched (and I’d probably have to learn how to use a hammer 🙂 ), when I applied for University I followed my love of Math and Science and went into Engineering. Now don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living, but I still have a passion for designing spaces. This is something that my fiancé can attest to while I force her to endlessly peruse furniture stores for no other reason than fun.

One of the things about my job that I love is coming up with new piping design concepts and sitting in on piping design reviews. It wasn’t until I recently renovated my basement that I noticed that I was making the same types of comments while planning the room that I do during reviews at work. An example of this is the need to leave sufficient space around furniture to move around the room freely and provide good walking access. The room needs to flow. While meeting this requirement, you also have to ensure that its main purpose is being met. Whether the room that you are designing is a living room where lots of seating is required, or a garage where storage is the priority, access space is needed. When looking at piping within a module the same concept needs to apply. An operator has to be able to walk throughout the piping freely so that they can access valves, check instrumentation or maintain equipment. With that said, like the living room or garage, the purpose of the space has to be taken into account as well. If a module has a pump within it that requires maintenance you may want to leave some additional space around the pump for access, where as if the module just has piping and valves, the same amount of space may not be required.

When I look back at one of the early designs that I made for our basement when we were coming up with ideas for renovating it I remember that the most important function for the room was having enough seating for the whole family to watch a movie. Although the room is quite small I wanted to make sure that we could all spend family time together in it. With that in mind, there is a storage closet on one side of the room that we use on a regular basis that I didn’t want to block off. The same goes for the walkout sliding doors at the back at of the room. We needed to leave space to get to these areas of the room but not compromise what we felt was the main purpose of the room.

When I compare this design to the one of our designs for an equipment module, at first glance they appear to have nothing in common. But do they? When I look at them again while thinking about some of the concepts that I mentioned earlier they are actually quite similar. In my basement I wanted to ensure there was access to the various areas of the room by leaving clear walkways, the same can be said for a module.

In my experience, one of the big differences between designing a room and reviewing a piping design is that when looking at a room the house has typically already been built, whereas with piping modules we are starting from scratch. When dealing with a space that is pre-built you are limited to a footprint and cannot extend beyond that without changing the configuration of the space, which is not always a simple task. When starting from scratch those boundaries don’t normally exist and the possibilities can be endless. This is what I truly enjoy being part of, and hopefully one day, will have the opportunity to be part of on a home. Like interior design, piping design is a true art-form (that in my opinion does not get enough credit). When a module has been designed well the piping within it just flows (oh geez, there’s a bad pun). Operators have access to all of the valves and equipment, but can also move around the space as needed. When piping is well designed it takes thermal growth and stress into account, but visually the piping looks no different. John D. Berry wrote that “only when the design fails does it draw attention to itself; when it succeeds, it’s invisible.” Now John Berry is a writer, and he was actually talking about writing the table of contents for a book, but I think that what he has stated is true in both piping design as well as interior design. If something sticks out to you while looking at a room or piping, typically that particular item was an afterthought. Keep in mind that sometimes people like having statement pieces within their spaces, the same cannot be said for piping.

It is key to remember that when designing a module there needs to be a balance between too little and too much space. As a project engineer I always strive to have modules designed as small as possible because every sq ft is an additional cost to the project. Operations on the other hand can always use additional space if it’s given to them. Like any home, too much storage is never a problem. Operators always love having additional space to store spare chemicals or hoses, but there needs to be a balance because that additional space comes at a cost.

After reflecting on both interior design and piping design I have found that both art-forms are more similar then what I originally would have thought. With that said, I have yet to have a client that let me change the colour of their building walls or hang some art within their facility, but maybe one day.

Written by: Matthew Hoblak, P.Eng.

Originally published in LinkedIn