Architecture Short Course: How to Develop a Design Concept

Architecture Short Course: How to Develop a Design Concept

All architecture begins with a concept. If you’re struggling to find one, curious
as to what one is, or simply wondering how architects begin their projects, this short
course will walk you through the process I use and some of the techniques I rely on to
develop architectural concepts, all illustrated with one of my residential projects. Very simply stated, a concept is an idea that
underpins your project. To an architect, the concept is what distinguishes
a work of architecture from a mere building. At its core, architecture seeks to solve problems. It’s the questions we ask that will determine
which problems our architecture will solve. Developing a concept allows us to frame the
questions we’re asking and it guides the design process. Choosing a starting point for your design
can be intimidating and an early stumbling block for designers of any skill level. But it doesn’t have to be. Your concept shouldn’t be rigorous; the
more malleable it is, the better. In fact, most architecture can’t be reduced
to one singular concept diagram; rather it’s informed by many concepts working in concert. There may be organizational concepts, material
concepts, functional, or structural or formal concepts. So, don’t fret if your design idea isn’t
reducible to a single elegant black stroke on a page. It’s best to illustrate concept development
with a real project so as I said, we’ll use our Squid Cove Residence as an example. Before we can develop the concept, we have
to first understand the practical constraints. Now, my design process begins only after gathering
and assessing all the given parameters for a project. Now, this primarily consists of three types
of information. There’s information derived from the site
things like: local climate, the prevailing winds, the solar aspect, vegetation, neighboring
structures, the site’s history, and any unique liabilities or opportunities. The site of course also comes along with legal
frameworks for development, which describe where and what we can and can’t build. The second type of information we’ll gather
is from the client. Now, every client has a set of cultural beliefs
and preconceptions, preferences and agendas. Of course, we’ll want to determine their
budget and understand the personality traits and organizational politics which might also
shape the design. The client and the building type together
determine what architects call – the program – which is essentially a detailed accounting
of all the spaces the building will contain. And the third type of information I gather
is related to the building typology. Is it a museum, a home or a school? To learn about a building typology we often
conduct an analysis of notable or relevant historical precedents. We want to know the essential problems these
type of structures grapple with. Understanding the history of the archetype
allows us to approach a problem from a fresh perspective. Now, all of this necessary information it’s
something that we collect for every single project. This inventory can also serve as the progenitor
for the design concept – our seed idea. And, rather than shunting creativity, these
constraints often incite the creative process. As with a good film, the setting, the characters,
the cinematography, and the plot all conspire to make it what it is. It’s the experience you’ll recall rather
than the concept per se. Sure, the concept sets the film in motion
and it’s the starting point for all that follows. But this concept – the one or two-line description
– can’t possible capture the richness and depth of the finished film or in our case
the architecture. Yet without it, the work is unfulfilling and
so it should be clear that the concept is necessary for all of our work as architects. Once we’ve gathered this information, it’s
now time to begin processing it into a useable form. Of the three, the site inventory is the most
readily translated to a physical diagram. For our Squid Cove project you can see I’ve
transcribed the zoning, the deed, and setback information onto the site plan. This diagram sets the real boundaries of our
project. We have property line setbacks, a setback
from the ocean, and an unstable bluff we need to avoid and this is shown on the topographical
plan. There are a number of trees on the site and
one significant Ash that we’re trying to avoid, but for the most part the trees and
vegetation here were just unremarkable. Next I add to this the solar path, the prevailing
wind direction, and this amazing view. There are site utilities and an existing logging
road and because there’s no public sewer here, I worked with a soils scientist to define
the best spot for the septic field and consequently the well which needs to be a certain distance
away from the field. Now, this can often be a stringent limitation
to the buildable area because there’s so much granite locally, so it’s important
for me to define it early. And, the one last piece of information, is
that there’s a neighboring house here that we want to avoid looking at. Now, I like to diagram these constraints on
the site plan before I visit the site so the information becomes a part of how I see things
when I’m there. Visiting the site of course will leave a different
impression and I find mapping things out first allows me to overlay the two in a way that
selects for opportunity. Now that we have this diagram we can start
to see the buildable site. Still quite a bit of territory. This video won’t cover the programming phase,
we’ll save that for another one, but prior to this I’ve worked with the client to define
the size of the home and budget which are – as you’d imagine – strongly interrelated. There’s no sense in beginning any design
work until the client is aware of the rough cost of the work which at this stage is directly
tied to their wish list of spaces and the sizes of those spaces. So, having completed the programming exercise
I can now diagram the relative size of the home and overlay that on the site when the
time is right. Because I work solely on residential projects
I’m quite familiar with the building type so I’m not doing an exhaustive precedent
study for each project. But knowing the typology allows me to reinvent
and rethink things when I see an opportunity. If I were working on a building typology I
was unfamiliar with, I’d research building precedents and use that information as an
underlying framework for developing the program and possibly as a launching point for my concept. Now you should look at the work of Bjarke
Ingells as a contemporary example of someone who uses typological reinvention to inspire
his building concepts. So, we’ve visited the site and we know what
and where we can and can’t build. We know something about the building type
and we know our client has budgeted for the design we’re about to undertake. What’s next? Well, this is where the building concepts
or parti comes in. Parti is sort of architect lingo for, “concept”
– and it actually comes from the French prendre parti which means, “to make a decision”
It’s the organizing principle we use as a starting point for the design. Now, I’ve come up with a few of the most
common ones I rely on to spark ideas, but there are an infinite number available to
you. We’ll start with the simplest, and it’s
one we’ve already touched on in our initial information gathering phase. Buildings interpret their surroundings and
reformulate them in a way that can be experienced. The site demands specificity from our architecture. It must react to it. So, using the site to inspire the building
concept is as genuine a place to start as any. We can react to: views, light, topography,
historical features, vegetation, and other structures. When a building concept references the site
in a rural setting, it establishes a dialogue between natural and man-made; in urban and
suburban contexts, a boundary between what you can design and control and what you can’t. Your design inspiration can editorialize this
relationship: will it oppose nature or the local surroundings or complement it? Will it disregard it, or adapt to it? Will it impose order on it or will it assume
a different order? For our project, the site was an important
progenitor of the design concept. It was important for me to work with the landform
and exploit the natural slope. Of equal importance were the view to the water
and the solar aspect each of which became strong organizing forces that shaped our early
building massings. I imagined one arriving to the site and being
presented with the view beyond, rather than the building. So, I knew I wanted to site the home to the
south splayed out along the hillside rather than on the crest of the hill. The sloping landform presented an opportunity
to mimic that with the form of the house and I began thinking of ways to zone the organization
of the building to complement the site features too. I used the view to the cove as well as the
solar aspect to select the most desirable site for the home. Now, often competing site factors will force
you choose one site force as more dominant. For example, the prevailing wind direction
is in direct competition with the idea I had about arrival to the site. If we were to position a taller mass to the
northwest to act as a natural wind screen it would impact our afternoon sun and prevent
an arrival sequence which presented the view rather than the building. Not all problems will be solved by assuming
a singular attitude toward the site. What was most important was the idea that
the building conform to the topography. Unfolding along the hillside allowed the building
to create a series of terraced planes and transition spaces mediating inside and out. We could then use these to establish intermediate
zones between architecture and nature. Using the hard-edged site retaining walls
and decks would give us the chance to highlight and contrast the soft edges of the site. Equally, I could have positioned the home
at the top of the site and used it as a light monitor or viewing tower or I could’ve completely
excavated the terraces, placed a green roof on top and concealed the home. And, although these were ideas I explored
along the way, they were abandoned as my client helped shape the decision making. The site helps to shape other dimensions of
our concept too, things like the material and structural concept and we’ll get into
those in future videos. But, you’ll begin to see and it’s worth
noting how the concept reverberates throughout the design. You’ll always be referring back to it as
you iterate and look to it when you’re stuck on a design problem. The site will obviously inform the organization
of public and private spaces too. How one arrives and moves from the public
gathering spaces to the more private sleeping spaces. It shapes where we locate windows which would
be toward the views and to capture the sun. And, the site informs the formal concepts
too. This site concept is like a marriage. The architecture shapes the site and the site
shapes our architecture. So, this is not enough you say? Well, I agree, there’s more meaning to extract
and more layers to the concept we should explore. So, inspiration number two: the client concept. Every work of architecture requires a client. For residential architecture, the client is
a major force driving the design concept. Not only from an aesthetic point of view,
but also programmatically. The client determines the program and which
spaces are most important in that program. And, they obviously provide the financial
framework for realizing the architecture. Successful architecture artfully addresses
a client’s needs. Now, client-driven concepts can take the form
of narratives, or lifestyle peculiarities or they can be purely functional. For example, a request for all living to be
on one level, or an open plan. For this project, our client expressed a desire
for the house to act as a gathering place for friends and family but also that it accommodate
seclusion and the need for retreat from others. Because we live in a seasonal community, the
summer here often sees a massive influx of guests and visitors. So, those who live here year-round are accustomed
to welcoming house guests in the summer months. This inspired the division of spaces into
separate living and sleeping pods, each afforded a unique aspect or view to the site. Now, as we begin to organize the spaces of
the client-driven program a simple way to develop a concept is to divide public and
private spaces and then take a position on their relationship. Now, perhaps you overlap them. Perhaps they’re in separate pods or nested. Perhaps their relationship is inverted. From here begin to diagram your concept and
iterate. For our project, we continued on by layering
our client’s interest in the outdoors and a near constant schedule of expeditions to
faraway places. This lifestyle helped fuel a story about what
the house could be, how it might function and, when they were home and traveling and
where we might position the spaces in relation to each other. And this, brings us to inspiration number
three. The Narrative Concept. Inspired by an attitude about how our client
might live in the home and welcome guests, and how they plan to move in and out of the
spaces, and mobilize gear – this all suggested to me the imagery of an encampment by the
sea. I envisaged the home as a place for family
and friends to gather and sort of ‘camp together’. Uniting in the evenings around the campfire
to share a meal, but retreating to private quarters for sleeping. The village concept provided for both social
gathering and private reflection as needed. Expedition travel allowed the house to expand
and contract with the seasons and with ebbs and flows of visitors. And, this story, as we’ll see begins to
inform layers of meaning as we develop the floor plans and exterior elevations later. Nested pods provided for escape within the
larger space of the home and a variety of scales mimicked the site beyond and my client’s
need for respite and seclusion even when surrounded by friends. Each one of these ideas exists in various
forms in the earliest, early design concepts presented. Now I created this cover sheet to describe
the thinking behind the plans, but it may not be important for you to convey this to
your client. It’s sort of up to you. I think it adds a level of interest and a
discussion point, but not every client will see the value. It’s most important that it exists for you
as you develop the design. They will of course care most about what the
design looks and feels like and so at this stage I present very loose sketched plans
to give an idea of how each concept deploys the program on the site and within the home. This process usually incites reactions both
positive and negative and you’ll use it to pivot moving forward. So, as you can see, it’s not a singular
concept. There’s a narrative that ties it together
and suggests a means for organizing the spaces on the site. There’s the site topography and natural
features that suggest where we want to locate the home and there’s our client’s life
that tells us how the elements of their story can inform the architecture. So, I’d struggle to produce the diagram
of this concept as gracefully as Maya Lin, but it’s still a concept. And, it’s informed every move I’ve made
since. Sure, I revisited it and refined it. I’ve tweaked things based on client feedback
and tastes. But it’s still there and I continue to layer
on meaning as I develop the design. When there’s a question I know how to answer
it because the conceptual framework is there to help. Now, there are as I said, infinite other ways
to develop concepts, here’s a few more if you’re still stuck. Materials. Architects like Peter Zumthor, Herzog and
DeMeuron, and Peter Bohlin often use the raw materials of building as the starting point
for their work. Every line we trace on the page represents
real physical materials coming together to make our architecture. Instead of rendering our work in pure white
as we so often do, why not seek meaning from the materials we’ll use to construct it. Local stone, or wood, aggregates, tradespeople,
or special techniques; these can all be called into service of the architecture and the spaces
can be enriched with meaning. Materials have very specific properties by
which they’re bound. Steel conducts, it’s strong in bending,
it can be welded. Stone is heavy and thick and imposing. Glass is light and ethereal. Bricks are the size of the human hand and
lend texture, and scale and warmth to a space. Ask yourself how these materials or combinations
of them tell a more interesting story. For my work, I’ll always use the underlying
narrative concept to reinforce the material concept. Here we’re using dark stained local cedar
shingles as the siding for our project. The spruce, pine and fir forest here is a
variegated dark green. The shingles and the wood grain replicate
this subtle tonal difference and the green helps the building to recede into the site. Board-formed concrete references the wood
graining and the process of making. Its patterns will host mosses and lichens
as the building weathers. Is this a separate concept? No, it all feeds into an attitude about a
place. Next, a structural concept. The expedition and the camping narrative that
we’ve been talking about helped us develop the structural strategy too. The gable form is a tent, glazed walls let
ample light in and we’re employing lightweight cabling elements reminiscent of tent poles
or cordage to tie the walls together. And of course, there’s nautical references
here that are pretty strong as well. Now you could also, write a manifesto. What do you believe this architecture’s
role is in society? What are the larger questions it’s proposing? Check out Dieter Rams for a famous manifesto. Having researched your building typology,
how can you disrupt long-held beliefs or organizational layouts? See BIG’s power plant for example. Perhaps you could explore a formal concept. The idea of architecture parlance. The bird’s nest. The chicken that sells chicken. And of course, there’s always the process
of making. Charles and Ray Eames used their journey from
ignorance to knowledge as the motivation for many of their designs. How can you bring a fresh perspective to the
problem you’re facing? Is there something inherent in the process
of building that reveals something novel? The design process isn’t singular, or linear. We don’t create a concept and stick to it
in the face of changing information. Use what you’re learning to pivot, that’s
perfectly acceptable, sensible even. You’ll present ideas to your client – or
professor – and they’ll react. Design is a dialogue and the concept ensures
you have something to talk about. Return to your design and tweak it using the
new information you’ve gathered. Each time we learn a little more about our
client, about the design and new opportunities arise. Now, in the next part of this short course,
we’ll look at how we begin turning the concept into architecture. If you’ve found this video helpful in any
way, you can help me by giving me a thumbs up below and sharing it. This is how I know what I’m doing is helping
you and it will allow me to continue to grow the channel. Thanks for watching. Cheers!

68 thoughts on “Architecture Short Course: How to Develop a Design Concept

  1. See these principles in practice on a REAL project:
    and for part 2 of the Architecture Short Course:

  2. I'm not an architect, but I'm finding that your videos are inspiring me to rethink and re-engage with my design practices. I'm a graphic designer who's gotten a bit burned-out and you make me want to pick up a pencil and pen and think more physically as opposed to ideating directly into digital forms. Thanks.

  3. What a good channel what a good person i love your courses thank very very mush BTW i am an architectural student in my 2nd year and your videos help me a lot thank you again

  4. I'm still a student and I always forget that I'm not designing for myself
    I keep trying to please my own needs and that doesn't help😂

  5. This course is literally the same as my Architecture professors, but you explain it more clearly with how calm you speak and the editing in your video helps as well.. definetely subscribed. Please keep the videos going.😁👍🏻

  6. For me developing a concept comes directly from what my client interview, listening and understanding main concern

  7. What is the best way to show legal frameworks? I know I shouldn't show the client these kind of information but I think it would be useful to show my process to the teachers.

  8. Do you have to go to school to be an architect? I live in a place with no architectural program. I also cannot move. I found one online architecture program but the programs are at American universities and as a Canadian this is very expensive.

  9. Great video, but I am developing innovative musical instrument, does the same info apply or do you have another resource for this? 🙌🏽

  10. I like to draw but i also like to build things and I really don't know if I should do architecture or civil engineering. What should I do?

  11. sir I am not an Architecture. But, i am a civil engineer. I am interested in desining what should i do now please guide me
    i will wait for your reply

  12. im 17 and i love drawing but i never have tried to draw in a architectural way not that good in math i struggle with it.. most of the people i know are telling me to study architecture.but im not sure because im not good at math (i may start a math course to help me)
    is math that needed in architecture,u need to be good at it or it doesn’t mater that much if u are good at drawing .. i would be so thankful if u respond

  13. I'm an architect student and I'm now becoming 2nd year this school year. I am concerning how mathematics would affect to my design… What field of math I need to focus on… I hope for your suggestion and correction…. Thanks. 😊

  14. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Though I am not an architect, I am interested in design from a community social psychologist's perspective – how do I build community and raise the aesthetic of impoverished communities that they will feel proud of through creating something new and future looking, which will enable them to feel rich, using what's available material around them to build and define beauty, and to connect the dots through their strengths that survival takes an entire village.

  15. I am from Bangladesh and i am interested in Architecture at AU. now i need to know about total fees for Architecture. i can not understand fees summaries given here. each semester i will take 4/5 courses then how many fees charge for complete the 120 credit architecture program? cell+8801973541494, [email protected]

  16. what you talk is bullshit. You said concept is an abstract idea. But you said again that the concept development consists of three type of "information", site information, client information, and building typology. Ok, is there any abstract thing regarding the three type of information? Come on, give me a break, will you? You know nothing about architecture.

  17. Hello Sir , My Name is Irfan and I belong to KPK,Pakistan. Dear sir I have a 7 years of experience in the field of Arch but I dnt have Architecture degree I want a professional arch degree from any where in the world, if u have any information about my problems please reply me

  18. made the mistake by going to civil engineering and not architecture a mistake that i will regret all my life

  19. hi Architect nice seeing your educational stuff here. I pretty much enjoy and learned a lot from you. Thanks your link here.

  20. Man this really helped me a lot. I am a 2nd year architecture student and I still find it hard to complete my design concepts until i saw this. Thanks a lot good sir

  21. Hlw…nice upload☺. I need a you give me some project of "Architecture school design".actually this is my recent project..please

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