Architecture Precedent Study and Analysis

A precedent can be defined in the following ways:
  • Something said or done that may serve as an example or rule to authorzie or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind.
  • The convention established by such a precedent or by long practice.
  • A person or thing that serves as a model.
 Abstract Angle Of Contemporary Achitecture With Colors

In architecture precedents are used widely and you will no doubt be asked to refer to precedents during your educational and professional career.

Precedent studies can aid your design process from concept to final design. Note that precedents are not copied but used as an inspiration to your design, an idea or guide to a method that you are wishing to employ in your scheme.

The precedent can give your design authority by equating it to something else, but also can create meaning to your design particularly to the public or the client. Precedents are useful in communicating your to its future users, visitors and so on.

So whether it is to describe a construction method, a material choice or a design concept precedent studies are vital in our design process.

Chicago City Skyline

Where to start?

You need to start by establishing the brief, and therefore understanding the problem. You are seeking guidance or inspiration in a certain area, so it is important you select suitable precedents for your design.

Don’t necessarily head straight to the internet for ideas – although it is a valuable resource. You can also consider magazines, journals, books – so make sure you head to the library too in order to collect your resources.  This is where keeping up to date with the latest architectural news can really help you – along with site visits and sketches.

If relevant it may even be worth getting out and about and experiencing some buildings for yourself. For example, you are designing a museum? Get out to your local museums and see what inspires you.

Don’t just select a building ‘because it looks nice’. There needs to be a lot more too it than that:

– Why does it look nice?

– What sets it apart from other similar buildings?

– How is it constructed?

– Would it work with your design?

– How did the architect make the building successful?

– Or, why is it a negative precedent?

– Is the design good?

Sydney Opera House From Below With Colors

How to analyse and apply your precedent studies

The precedent is there to resolve a design problem. Be it a suitable solar shading solution, or a cladding material you need to drill down on what that particular precedent has taught you and why you feel it is an important inspiration for your design.

Take time to research and interpret the precedent building, and figure out how it is constructed and its significant features. Analyse the form, structure, using any photographs and drawings you have in order to start to fully understand all aspects of the building or segment that you are focusing on.

Some of the things that you should consider are:

– Structure

– Scale

– Light

– Materials and surfaces

– Details

– Context

– Social / cultural impact

– Form

– Access

– Aesthetic

And many many more!

It is important not to copy. Be specific in the area which you feel applies to your design, learn lessons from the precedent and find ways that you can be creative with its integration, and solving your design problems.

These need to be communicated to your client/tutor in order for them to understand your reasoning, and give them the vision of your design.

Continue to build your architectural vocab and you will slowly create a precedent study library in your mind that you can refer to again and again during your design process. Immerse yourself in architecture, and this will become easier. Critically assess designs you see, ask questions, be inquisitive.

Abstract Detail On The Side Of Contemporary Building In Singapore

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.