HOW TO DEVELOP A DESIGN CONCEPT
A concept is an idea. This can be best understood as innovation, where we use the sum total of our creative experiences, design exposure, and critical research to derive a unique design outcome.
Architecture tends to be more innovative than inventive in nature, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources to conceptualise and construct the buildings from where we live, learn, work & play.
The famous Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier described architecture as
“…the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”
In order to conceptualise architectural designs, we must first find inspiration. Inspiration can be found through research, experimentation, from experience, and often it seems that inspiration come from nowhere.
Let’s review each of these sources:
As both an expression of art, and needing to fulfil a highly functional role, architecture. Eileen Gray explains: “To create, one must first question everything.” Our designs must satisfy limiting legislative requirements, restrictive construction budgets, site complications, stakeholders expectations, all while being expressive, creative, and free.
Thankfully we are not the first to ever struggle with such a seemingly impossible task.
“We design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown” – Norman Foster.
We largely draw from the experience of others and our own. We call this precedence, and might start our long journey of conceptual design research with a precedent study.
The primary aim of a precedent study is to learn what has been done before. We learn from the success and failings of others, drawing from their experience. While initially this may encourage crude copying, continued exposure to a broad range of exemplars (a shining example) will result in considered adaptation.
For information and examples of a Precedent Study, click this link. (COMING SOON)
For the most part, buildings must conform to the law. Architecture must therefore meet legislative objectives, even if that means sometimes redefining the rules. Bruno Munari explained; “A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.” This sensibility for beauty often seems at odds with the imposed or recommended regulations that limit architectural creativity. However, planning controls and legislation are essential in order to protect people.
A legislative analysis template can be downloaded from here. (COMING SOON)
Understanding the needs and wants of the person paying you seems so obvious, however, as a design it is often hard to disentangle our own desires. Analysis is also about interpretation, and sometimes mediation, resolving the conflicting desires that arise when there is a disparity between the brief and the budget, or between numerous clients or project stakeholders.
This analysis will often occur naturally through the course of meetings and discussions, but should also be formally communicated in a Client Return Brief which may then form part of a contract or agreement, prepared before the design process begins, providing clarification of the design objectives, priorities, and services to be provided.
Sometimes words are inadequate, and the communication of design intent, purpose and lifestyle must be seen and experienced, not just heard. In order to better understand my clients wants I like to visit them in their own environment. This often provides a new framework or paradigm by which to interpret their worldview, seeing through their lens.
“Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.” – Yoshio Taniguchi.
You can download a client brief checklist here. (COMING SOON)
“Of particular importance is the junction of the rational and the poetic resulting hopefully in works that resonate and belong to where they reside.” – Glenn Murcutt.
The orientation, aspect, context, and connection to the site are integral to an architectural design concept. Conducting a detailed study of a site digitally and physically highlights the environmental, cultural, and anthropomorphic factors that guide much of our design decision-making. Many architects consider site analysis so important that they will camp out on a site in order to better understand the climate and conditions throughout the day and night.
Click here for resources to help you develop a detailed site analysis.
Data Driven Design
To paraphrase Ian Ayres; Intuition and experience is no longer enough. The best design decisions are made at the intersection of expertise and data. A rise in our ability to capture information, and crunch it using machine learning or AI, has resulted in an emphasis on design generated primarily from data.
This is not a new idea; architects like MVRDV have promoted the dominance of design derived from raw data over all other expressions of inspiration. Yet we could trace this philosophy of mathematical design much further back to Le Corbusier’s Modular, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the Golden Ratio employed by Phidias of Ancient Greece, even as far back as the pyramids of Egypt.
So is data driven design the new normal, and will human creative inspiration soon become obsolete? According to Mike Mendelson of Nvidia’s Deep Learning Institute, computers are not good at open-ended creative solutions; that’s still reserved for humans. But through automation, we’re able to save time doing repetitive tasks, and we can reinvest that time in design.
For more information on how AI, machine learning, and data driven design in architecture, check out these next few videos.
For more information on this video, click here to go to their website.
Inspiration – where do ideas come from?
Many people consider Frank Lloyd Wright a master of design creativity. His built & published un-built works are a testament to this. He also wrote about design, titling his notebook, An Idea Is Salvation By Imagination. Like many, Wright found nature as the primary source for much of his inspiration.
“God is the great mysterious motivator of what we call nature, and it has often been said by philosophers, that nature is the will of God. And I prefer to say that nature is the only body of God that we shall ever see”
Whether you consider inspiration divinely granted, drawn from nature, happenstance, the substance of dreams, or the culmination of life-long experiences, ideas often seem to come from nowhere.
While many tasks can be quantified, accounted for in hours of work undertaken, design concepts can be hard to chase down. Many designers will share similar anecdotes of design concepts emerging while sleeping, in the shower, or when going for a walk in nature. This may initially seem odd, until we delve deeper into the inner functioning of our brains. Recent research in the field of neuroscience has moved beyond an overly simplistic left & right brain division. They now suggest that novel (or creative) thinking engages regions of our brain that don’t typically communicate, and that the likelihood of this occurring is dependant on many factors. These factors include: the time of day, lighting, exercise, exposure to particular colours, stresses, and more.
Links to research:
Munch.M, Linhart.F, Borisuit.A, Jaeggi.S, Scartezzini.J-L; 'Effects of prior light exposure on early evening performance, subjective sleepiness, and hormonal secretion' - Behavioral Neuroscience, 126, 1, (2012), pages 196-203
Steidle. A and Werth. L; 'Freedom from constraints: Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity' - Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 35, September 2013, Pages 67-80
Lichtenfeld.S, Elliot.A, Maier.M, Pekrun.R; 'Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance' Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Volume: 38 issue: 6, page(s): 784-797
Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P (2012) 'Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings.' PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474.
Sorting & Critical Analysis
Developing a design concept also requires sorting between a near-infinite number of planning possibilities. A designer not only needs to have ideas, but needs to be able to synthetize numerous concepts, ensuring ideas work together not against each other. You must also be willing to discard, or shelf a design concept if it is inappropriate for that particular situation.
"No Idea Is So Outlandish That It Should Not Be Considered With A Searching But At The Same Time A Steady Eye."– Winston Churchill
Critical analysis is therefore testing concepts against the criteria deemed important. For example, if sustainability is of paramount importance, then design concepts need to employ one or more of the following factors:
Store: low levels embodied energy, or carbon capture
Use: reused, recycled, recyclable, or renewable materials
Limit: waste, energy use, off gassing, and ongoing maintenance requirements
Increase: durability, occupant health and wellbeing, passive solar design, renewable energy production.
Designing for Place
As a rebuttal to the placeless and plain monotonous architecture that was derived from the tenants and practices of the International Style of the 1920’s & 30’s, many architects now seek to find and infuse the unique meaning and identity of place into their architecture.
Frank Ghery described this sentiment well:
“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”
Whether viewed as Post Modernism, Environmentalism or Critical Regionalism, each of these ism’s cluster the current trend towards ‘designing for place’.
While some individuals (or companies) have managed to employ their skills to outwork an expression of place-full architecture irrespective of their own origin, most have become famous within a particular region or climate, utilising a themed palette of materials, and form that respond well to their context, climate and clientele.