Architecture Design Basics – Form

Loft Conversions

The act of creating architecture can be seen as a problem solving process. Early phases of design will focus on establishing the problematic conditions of the project, and committing to finding a solution to those problems.

A designer will draw on experience, their existing design language to resolve issues and develop solutions. The following post (forming part of our Design Basics series) looks at some of the elements and principles of the design language. Specifically we will start by looking at form and how it responds to conditions of function, purpose and context.

What is form?

Form can be described as a reference to both the internal structure and external outline, often in the shape of a three dimensional mass or volume.

Some of the characteristics of form include:

Shape – the outline of the form

Size – the dimensions of the form, proportions and scale

Colour – the colour of the form will affect its visual weight

Texture – the texture of a form will affect how light is reflected or absorbed

Position – where the form is located in relation to its environment

Orientation – the position of the form in relation to the ground, compass points or the person viewing the form

Primary elements

The primary elements of form are points, lines, planes and volumes – each one growing from the other. A point is a position in space, a line is the extension of a point. A surface or plan, is the extension of a line. A volume is a plane extended.

Primary elementsPrimary shapes and solids

The most significant primary shapes are the circle, triangle and square.

The primary solids are the sphere, cylinder, cone, pyramid and cube.

Primary shapes

Primary solidsRegular and irregular forms

A regular form is considered to be a form that is consistent and orderly. They are generally symmetrical about one or more axes. The sphere, cylinder, cone and cube are examples of regular forms. These forms can be changed by the addition or subtraction of elements, but can still remain regular.

An irregular form is one whose parts are dissimilar and generally inconsistent and asymmetrical. A regular form can be contained within an irregular form.

Regular and irregular formsTransformation of form

Many variations of a form can be generated from the primary solids, by manipulating dimensions of the solids, or adding or subtracting elements.

The following sketches show:

  • Examples of how a cube can be transformed by altering its dimensions
  • Examples of how a cube can be transformed by subtracting portions of its volume.
  • Example of how a cube can be transformed with the addition of elements to its volume.

transformation of form

Subtractive and additive forms

Subtractive forms will have portions removed from its volume, but they often retain their identity until the profile is drastically altered.

Additive forms are produced by relating or attaching one or more subordinate forms to its volume. This can be broken down into different types of contact.

Spatial tension – where the forms are within close proximity to one another

Edge to Edge – where the forms are sharing a common edge

Face to Face – where the forms have corresponding surfaces which are parallel to one another

Interlocking – where the forms are inter connected to one another

Additive formsAdditive forms often grow and merge with other forms, creating relationships that can be categorised as below:


Centralised forms are often freestanding, and isolated within their context.


A linear form is often a response to a topography or site context. They tend to demonstrate a selection of forms along a line.


A radial form features a centrally located core with linear forms extending outwards from the centre. Radial forms can create a network of centres linked by the linear forms.


A clustered form tends to be a collection of varying forms. They are often based on a more functional requirement, and tend not to be regular or formal. A clustered form can be interlocking, face to face, or edge to edge amongst others.


A grid form demonstrates a form that is focused on a grid layout. These forms tend to be considered in third dimension and are of a modular framework.

Additive form arrangmentsCollisions of geometry

There are often occasions where two geometries will collide to create a new composite form. This may occur in many circumstances:

  • To suit the functional requirements of the internal space
  • To display a symbolic importance
  • To direct a space toward or away from a specific site context feature
  • To create a volume of space within an existing form
  • To demonstrate the nature of the structure
  • To create a symmetry in the building
  • To respond to site context or topography
  • To respond to an existing path or movement through the site


collisions of geometryBook Recommendation and reference:

Architecture form space and orderFORM SPACE AND ORDER – FRANCIS CHING 

A truly vital resource for all architecture students, and indeed any book from Francis Ching. Highly recommend.

My favourite Tools and Resources

I have curated a list of some of the tools and resources I would strongly recommend for anyone studying or working in Architecture.