How to Develop a Concept for Architectural Design and Why It’s Important (For Architecture Students)

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How to Develop Great Architectural Design Concepts as an Architecture Student (Video)

You’ll find out what an architecture concept is, why having a good architecture concept is important and how to develop your own architectural concept that will drive your design process.

I hope you enjoy the video! Feel free to discuss anything in the comments below. I respond to every comment 🙂

Step 1 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Understanding the Brief

You first need to read and UNDERSTAND the brief. Read it 100 times if you must. This is the most important step.

Once you’ve understood it – READ IT AGAIN.

Then, write down or highlight the most important information. Break it down so that you understand what the client (or teacher) wants.

Step 2 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Creating Lists

What I like to do is create a list.

    1. List the key features that are required
    2. List the rooms you’ll need
    3. List the constraints – things to avoid

Step 3 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Create diagrams showing the amount of space required.

Quite often we have a space requirement or limitation. Rooms can only be so big or so small.

Create a diagram of this and understand how big each space needs to be, even if it’s just roughly.

At least get an understanding of the difference of size between the two.

Step 4 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Think About the Site

If you’re doing a school project where no site has been allocated – make one up.

The site is about 20% of the design because of orientation, neighbouring buildings etc. You’re not going to design a small little home next to a skyscraper.

You’re not going to have a glass wall on the western (or eastern) façade – it will heat the building up like crazy.

Analyse the site. Make sure you understand where north is, neighbouring buildings

If you are designing a extension – do you want to compliment it or detract from it?

Step 5 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Develop a Key Theme for your Concept

Come up with a key theme.

Maybe the client has mentioned they like surfing. You can use that as a guide for the rest of your design. Maybe the house curls in on itself like a wave.

Maybe the client is a space astrologist. Design the house to resemble a rocket ship.

It comes back to understanding the brief, understanding what it is the client wants. Who they are, what they do every day, what they like to eat, the way they use their current home.

Step 6 Developing a Concept for Architectural Design

Revise Your Concept Over Time

Come back to it. It requires a lot of time – which is why it’s important to start early.

Consciously thinking about a concept and trying to nut it out in one sitting is very difficult and stressful.

In “deep work” this is what Cal Newport talks about. How the greatest ideas come over time. From walking, and taking thinking breaks, going for jogs, driving around town.

From here, every time you’re considering a design element. What door handles should you have? What does the bathroom counter look like? You might design the door handle to curl up like a wave. Or your counters might be in the shape of a surf board.

This doesn’t mean everything should look like a wave – it simply means that everything should be derived from the one overarching theme of surfing.

Whenever you’re stuck trying to think of a design element – it doesn’t take you 10 years to come up with an idea. Everything is linked and the building is fluent with a strong theme.

A lot of teachers say that the design concept is only 5% of the project. It shouldn’t consume a lot of your time – especially once you’ve got experience thinking of them.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend much time on it. It simply means that you should consistently come back to it to revise and rethink and restructure.

The further into a design you get – the more impact changes will have on the outcome of cost, labour, time etc.

Effective people make changes slowly, if at all. Ineffective people make changes quickly and often.


If you have a question you want answered or discussed, feel free to post it on the forums so I can see it!

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Other students might even join in on the discussion and answer it for you.

If not, I’ll answer it on the next Q&A episode of the podcast!