A lot of architecture students might wonder; how do we develop Architectural concepts? we will give an answer to that, but first, let’s discuss what “a concept” really is?
A concept can be defined as “ an abstract idea/ a plan or an intention to help sell or publicize”. What this definition simply implies is that a concept can be “anything”. So, inspiration can come from a bird, a painting, or even a sculpture for instance.
Concepts do not [usually] fall from the sky, or come in your sleep – at least not for me or any architect I know. It could come when you’re not working or in your sleep but that is only because you have been thinking about the project and its problems, as well as reading about it prior to that. Whatever “eureka” moment you finally have. Like the case of Jorn Utzon, Designer of Sydney Opera house as he was inspired by the peeling of oranges.
We have outlined 4 steps (what may or may not be steps per se) to develop architectural concepts or ideas.
How is the site like?
It is important that a proper investigation into the site which will soon become home to your newest building. This is primarily to ensure you do not find yourself designing in a cloud. What I mean is this, a survey plan might not always give topographical information on a site.
Understanding site topography
Designing with the assumption that a site is flat when it actually might not be. This could be a recipe for disaster.
Understanding the uniqueness of a site topography provides opportunities for creativity which would be in itself a concept. Beyond just topography, you can derive valuable information through a proper site study.
You can explore zoning possibilities within the site through the existing site configuration. For instance, a school beside a market will lead to a design that places the classrooms away from the market. And maybe have that area as the play area. You can also plant trees along the perimeter to serve as a “buffer wall”.
Analysis of sunlight
this can also provide ideas on how the building could be oriented – with a north-south orientation more ideal. you can use brise soleil on east-west facing facades for instance. And/or you can zone spaces away from that area.
Use site features
You can also use Site analysis to investigate appropriate locations for access – either primary or secondary – as well as identifying site features like trees, rocks, or water bodies. That can be creatively incorporated in the design process.
Use of other factors
Other factors like wind, traffic, noise, existing vegetation, setback laws, building permissive heights, views, etc provide conduits of inspiration which could also end up as a concept for your design.
Of course, you do not (you cannot actually) prioritize all of these site factors, but you can, through experience and careful study of the uniqueness of the project, identify and prioritize key site factors and incorporate them into your project.
What are you actually designing?
As architects, we all have this ambition to be like Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry and that’s fine. But, we have to focus on our primary responsibility which is to serve our clients and the environment.
Understand of the design briefing
Nothing else makes sense if the client says he wants a 3-bedroom holiday home and you force a Guggenheim museum concept to the design. We should be careful that we do not approach a design project with a pre-disposed concept as that is not a healthy way to design. However, a deep understanding of the design brief is crucial to develop an architectural concept and ultimately a good design.
The steps in understanding the brief include outlining the spatial requirements but beyond that, other seemingly nonsense ideas from the clients, something like, “I want to be able to see my kitchen from my bedroom”; and listening to what the client is not saying. For instance, a client told me he wanted a big kitchen. I realized he didn’t exactly want a big kitchen, but a comfortable one, but more importantly, that he liked food. As a result, my design question was, “how do I design a home for a foodie?” Finding a solution to that became my concept.
Beyond outlining the spatial requirements for the project, you also need to allocate tentative areas to those spaces so as to determine what is possible or what is not. Developing a program based which includes identifying total building area, permissible height, and setbacks provides a guide to the development of a concept as it then has a context.
What story do you want your design to tell?
I once designed a mixed-use facility somewhere in Lagos, Nigeria for my final year academic project. The concept was biophilic design. Biophilia, if I am to overly simplify it, means “bio + philia” or the love of life. It is a design approach that seeks to incorporate elements of nature into a design with the ultimate aim of improving the health and wellness of users of that building through the Evidence-Based Design technique.
Of course, this does not in any way invalidate other concepts in the project which were accessibility and functionality. But because I wanted to drive a single narrative, I ensured that the narrative of a place where wellbeing is a priority. That is how a narrative works.
It actually takes quite a lot of knowledge – much more than just architectural – knowledge to be able to create a strong narrative for your project. An understanding of history, philosophy, sociology, and so on can go a long way in influencing your design approach and help you craft a plausible narrative for your project which could also be your concept.
“Keep it simple, but not too simple.”
Ultimately, I have realized that this naturally reveals itself with the level of one’s experience so if you do not properly understand this, you will with time.
However, on the surface, what it means is that you do not want to “force” your design by adding elements that are unnecessary or in the drive to be minimalist, refuse the client from basic design elements.
In addition to these 4 primary considerations in creating a concept, you also need to understand that a building concept could primarily either be a form or a philosophy – technically both as it has to look in a certain way and be born out of a certain philosophy even if that philosophy is “functionality”. What I mean is, it is either you’re looking to do a Fran Ghery (squeeze a paper and call it the Guggenheim Museum), or a Norman Foster with sustainability and innovation as a primary design concept. It is pretty much up to you to choose. But whichever you choose, it has to be an informed decision. Frank as well as Lord Foster understood the brief for their projects, the used materials, and how it would be put together so you should too.
also, if you want to be successful in architecture, make sure to read this article.