Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What is a design concept?

More often, when I interview a potential architectural apprentice for our firm, I asked them about their thesis topic and asked them, What was your design concept? Most often than not, the answer would connote the theme or style of the building.

The design "concept" for any proposed building is the central idea that is the driver for making architectural design decisions related to the project. As such, it is the architect who will formulate what he / she thinks is the most important design factor(s) for that particular project. While there are many possible such concepts that could be used in the design, enumerated below are a few that come to mind.
1. An idea for building form derived from (or mostly dictated by!) the proposed site.
2. The need to build in a phased manner could impact the layout and form, many times in combination of the above-mentioned site constraints or features.
3. An idea about how to lay out the major circulation paths through the building, for ease of way finding and efficiency of movement of staff, the public and materials.
4. The functional relationships and area requirements of the various departments and funcitons taken possibly in consideration together with all the above factors.
5. The climate of the location, or the way in which the building will be lit and ventilated, by artificial or natural means. If there are severe budget constraints, as in many developing countries, this factor could be a major determinant of building form.

6. Mostly, a combination of all these factors, given varying degrees of importance.

This notion of using a "concept", a central driving idea to determine the final shape of a building’s built form is necessary because it makes, more than for any other building type, the process manageable. Without the help of this yardstick along which any idea relating to the design can be measured, the designer would get lost in the complexity of the issues involved. 
 A design concept serves the purpose of speeding up the decision process, enabling the design of the project to be completed within the specified time frame, which is usually ASAP. This only serves to underline the importance of the choice of concept, which is a unique decision which needs to be made separately for each project, based on it's particular features. As architects, we suggest that clients be more patient and give us a little more time spent at project inception and our "half inch" in developing ideas as we endeavor other alternatives, thinking about this would be time well spent. 

Inside a building's built form, whether residential, institutional or commercial, reality rules. But its rough edges need to be rounded off by the designer's dreams. So allow us, as your architects, our half-inch, a little more rather than a little less occasionally.

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