November 24, 2021

Simple Guide to Architectural Concepts for the Architecture Student

Snaptrude Editorial Desk

What's in this post?

What's in this Blog?

  1. Introduction to Architectural Concepts
  2. How to Develop Architectural Concepts
  3. Using Software in Concept Development
  4. Wrapping Things Up
A concept is an idea, a theory or notion. In architecture, concepts provide a direction or approach to the design.

Architectural concepts are the backbone of the overall design. It brings the design together by creating a cohesive story. Sometimes, Architecture students think that a concept has to be evident in the design. However, this is not true. Concepts are rather like maps and help you when you're lost. Moreover, concepts can evolve with the design and are not set in stone.

For students, the trouble is in getting started. They often end up spending way too much time than necessary. So we'll try and simplify the process of generating architectural concepts. We'll also touch upon the benefits of Software and its downsides at this stage.

An Example of Architectural Concept Development. Image Credits: C.F. Møller Architects

Architectural design is evolutionary. So it is best to start small by collating project data - project brief, requirements, site information etc. Doing this will help orient yourself to the design context.

Next, analyze the data in front of you. Before you start doodling, take some time to conduct a site analysis and understand the brief thoroughly. The study will provide you with a few immediate challenges - a rock in the middle of the plot, harsh winds, sandy soil, views to the southwest etc. Essentially, we're breaking down the design problem to its bare bones to simplify it.

These findings are the starting point of a design concept. You can use one or some of these findings to come up with a design idea. For example, it could be a specific way of orienting, shaping or stacking the building. It could even be the detail of a building element or a representation of a particular space. There are no rules here. So start sketching or writing down your thoughts. Don't worry about the details yet—every idea is a unique path to solving the design problem and a concept to explore.

The next step is to develop and refine the concept(s) into one cohesive narrative. We created many different possibilities in the previous step, but this step is about elimination, combination and improvement. Pick one idea that you think makes the most sense and build it up.

Concept development is not particularly linear. So there are ways to go about the development phase. For instance, you could borrow ideas from secondary reference points like design philosophy, cultural context, neighbourhood, building materials, personal experiences, geometry etc. These elements help differentiate your design from everybody else.

If it makes sense, you may also combine ideas from the first phase of exploration. Keep going till you feel like the concept is taking shape and is ready to be tested for practicality.

An architectural concept of a residence modelled on Snaptrude
A Conceptual Model of a Residence Modelled on Snaptrude

While some Architects shun the idea of using software for concept development, it has had a vital role in recent times. Many young Architects are experimenting with generative, computational or programmatic design, and we have our very own guide to computational design here.

In the early stages of design, software should aid and not hinder design development. Choosing the wrong tool can restrict your design process. Architects often turn towards programs such as Sketchup or Rhino for their fluid modelling capabilities. They are helpful to visualize the idea at scale and also provide you with visual feedback. At this stage, you may find yourself switching back and forth between 3D modelling and sketching. That is completely fine and sometimes even necessary.

However, one must be aware of the pitfalls in using software for early-stage design. We've already mentioned that they could be restrictive. But the bigger problem is that the existing tools were not designed with Architects in mind but they were adopted by them for lack of a better tool. They are disconnected from the rest of the Architect's toolkit like AutoCAD or Revit and don't provide intelligent feedback in the form of data, which is much expected with the growing awareness on BIM. Hence, they are what is known as a "dumb model".

These are some of the reasons why we built Snaptrude. It offers powerful modelling capabilities and data. You can ideate at speed without worrying about technical accuracy and get real-time feedback on concepts in the form of quantities, area statements, climate and more. You could even invite your faculty to the model for design review or work on competitions with your peers. But we'll leave you to check these out on your time!

The bottom line is that software can be incredibly useful in the early design stages when used appropriately. You don't want the tool dictating your design but the other way around.

We've seen that concept design does not have to be complicated. It is simply a starting point in the design journey - a tiny idea that will eventually lead to something extraordinary. And remember, what matters the most is the journey and not the destination. Design is ever-evolving, and there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Keep exploring!