Monday , 23 July 2018
Architectural Concepts

How To Develop Architectural Concepts

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I have had many people asking me for help with concepts in architectural design. I am asked how to develop your concept, how to come up with a design, how to justify your design. All of these things relate to a design process. Some projects require a more in depth process than others – but generally similar issues and design problems occur that you need to consider.
Design process

One aspect of the design process is the development of your concept. This is not an area that was covered all too well on my degree course. Of course we learnt how to develop our design, solve design problems and so on. But I have found for some students there is a heavy emphasis on CONCEPTS, and during crits there seems to be many questions of “what is your concept??”

So, I have done my research and come up with some ideas that will hopefully give you some help, but this is not my area of expertise so I’m sure you will be able to add to the information and develop it further.

Architectural Concepts

 Architectural Concepts
Concept: Definition 
an abstract idea
a plan or intention
an idea or invention to help sell or publicise a commodity
idea, notion, theory, conviction, opinion


Architectural concepts are the designers way of responding to the design situation presented to them. They are a means of translating the non-physical design problem into the physical building product. Every project will have critical issues, central themes or problem essences, and the general issues of designing a building can come under the following categories:

  • functional zoning
  • architectural space
  • circulation and building form
  • response to concept
  • building envelope
Obviously many elements and factors fall under these categories, with much consideration required to the broader general issues, along with the technical details.

Design Philosophy

 Architectural Concepts
In order to develop your concepts first consider your design philosophy. Your philosophy is a set of values that you use to inform your design. Often this is considered to be the life values of the designer.
For example:
  • artistic vs. scientific
  • rational vs. irrational
  • personal vs. universal
  • visual vs. non visual
  • needs vs. wants
  • individual vs. society
Then you can go on to look at your values in terms of design. How do these values work with the design problems you face on this particular project?
  • ordered vs. random
  • structured vs. unstructured
  • objective vs. subjective
  • one answer vs. multiple solutions
  • creative vs. conservative
  • specific vs. general
  • man vs. nature
  • complexity vs. simplicity
  • design for now vs. design for the future
  • patterned process vs. random process

Design Problem

So now you have identified your philosophy and your values you now need to identify your design problem. How will you interpret the design problems and use your values and philosophies to come up with the design solution?

How do you understand the design brief? What are your responsibilities as a designer?

Some of the factors you will need to consider are:

  • function
  • form
  • space
  • geometry
  • context
  • human factors
  • economic constraints
  • enclosure
  • limits
  • opportunities
You need to break down the elements of the brief and give yourself a full understanding of the requirements of the project. Consider all of the above in relation to your project. Draw out diagrams. The following diagram is a reaction to the brief for a cancer care centre to be built in the grounds of a hospital. It addresses a few of the elements discussed above – it is not an extensive list but gives you an idea of the sort of things to be thinking about.
Factors Diagram
You will need to carry out a site analysis which will also inform your design. To read our 3 part Site Analysis series click here:
So these are a lot of the methods, ideas and explanations for concepts in architecture, but now lets look at how you come up with your concept/design.

Build your concept early

As soon as you receive your assignment brief, start brainstorming. Write down any ideas you have, sketches if they help. Read through the main elements and requirements of the brief and consider how you will meet these requirements. Write it down. Start building your solution. These thoughts are crucial in building your concept.

Break it down

Go through some of the statements above and consider how they influence the design. How are you going to find solutions? Does the design require complexity or simplicity? What are the limitations? What are your opportunities as a designer?
Consider the architectural concepts categories, and slowly extrapolate the elements that require a design solution.

Establish your concept by understanding the problem

Make a diagram of the problems
Make a diagram of the solutions or your ideas


Another useful way to develop your ideas, sketch out your concepts. Whether it is tiny elements of design detail, or general form of your building. Keep referring back to your sketches, as they may inspire a development of design.

Study your precedents

Carrying out in depth research relating to your design problems will inspire you and help you discover solutions. You can study how issues have been solved in other designs, and how they might direct you with your own. It is not copying, but using previous design innovation to inform your design solutions.
If you close your mind to anything that has been done before, you are starting from scratch, which is crazy.
Read more about precedent studies here.
Stages of design:
Methodology ( systematic method of problem solving)
Problem statement

Design Solution

Your concepts and solutions will begin to build as you explore the different factors required in your design and the values and ideas you can come up with. Hopefully these tips and pointers will help you to develop your concepts in design, and give you more confidence in presenting your designs. Other posts you might be interested in include:
 Feel free to comment below with any useful tips that might help people out with their architectural concepts. 🙂

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  1. Dear Sir/Madam

    My name is Menzi I am doing second year in Architecture in Durban University of Technology, now I am looking for six months in serve training that will help me to complete my Diploma.

    Menzi Cebekulu



  3. Wooow!!!!! …as have liked this . ts abit interesting

  4. This iz vry big problem to Architecture students. THANK FOR YOU HELP….

  5. Now i’m aware of concept development…. thanks.. it was helpful

  6. hlalela Cames Chauke

    Woow this was well explained thank u

  7. thanks am a 2rd year student kyambogo university Uganda working on upgrading slums project any more hints?

  8. Samrudhi Kulkarni

    I m in 2 yr… N this helped me alot but one thing I want to tell is basically everyone have different perception for concept n till now I have seen many types of concept some are saying concept is to dissolve any shape thing n get ur building form… Some says concept means to just organic, vernacular… Architecture in it… ..
    So what do I consider my perception for concept…?

    • Hey, I am also a student of architecture presently in my third year. According to me, concept is something that comes into your mind, as soon as you are introduced to a project. Depending upon the type and scale of project, we as future Architect’s tend to get some idea of how our building should look like. Now that you got the idea, try to produce some schema and diagram to support that imagination process and then you will be ready with your concept. Hope I have helped you out.

    • Hello madam,
      I’m struggling in a problem of withstanding with my concept. I’m doing 3rd year architecture & while I choose a concept for my design problem & go discuss with my staffs they totally confuse me with their own ideas. They change my thought process and perspectives, so how to get rid of this problem.

      • Hi Rashmi,
        You need to decide whether to follow your tutors advice or whether you want to stick with your original concepts and ideas. You tutors are there to guide you and most likely grade your work so I would take on board their comments and try to take a step back from your work and look at it with a fresh perspective. Tutors never try to sabotage your work – they try to get the best out of you and your project. Having said that, if you have confidence in your ideas and feel you can justify your concepts when it comes to the final crit then maybe you should continue with your own idea/concept. If you are concerned, discuss it further with your tutors and ask them to explain in more detail for you. Good luck. Emma

    • Hi samrudhi .. I think you must keep your concepts focused .. rather then other things..

  9. Very helpfull thaanks

  10. The best explanation and the simplest that I have ever read. Thank you very much <3

  11. I am 3rd year student and i m confused wid what preference i should give while designing a hospital….i am not able to think properly …. i need hints to start with the concept for designing a General 100 beded hospital ….

    • Hi .. I think you must visit personally hospitals..note down the points which Clint’s want from you .. adjust them in drawing n details ..

  12. Iam studing architecture 3rd yr.I have lots of doubt in architectural drawing and site suggest me some books to solve my doubts and please be in contact with my mail ID to clear my doubts

  13. Great job man thank you for taking the time to put this together it help me a lot for my future building

  14. Dare Joseph Olayemi

    wow,this is an eye opener to conceptual design as a whole

  15. This helped me but i nid to ask, can one design without using concept at all? Can i design just based on functionality of my spaces??

    • I guess so – it depends really on the brief or assignment objectives. What the client is looking for and how important the concept is to a project.

  16. My dear sir /madam,
    My name is Pawan yadav. I’m preparing for B.arch (NATA ) .So please help me

  17. hi . I would like to ask what is overall concept? and what are it’s contents?

  18. I want a modern concept for built a snackbar in a highway side its my 1st year project

  19. If you are told to design furnitures how can you come up with a concept

    • Dharshini Moodley

      A lecturer of mine taught me this methodology. The first time you read through your assignment you must have had an idea. A vision of the objects function. Write your vision down.
      Sketch out your idea and pull out words based on the design. E.g. A basket. Weaved, irregular, natural etc.
      Choose 2-3 words to focus on. Those will be your design drivers. Thereafter think of a word or phrase that would encapsulate all that you have done above. Your vision and concept are connected.

      I hope this helps.

  20. Dharshini Moodley

    Extremely helpful! Thank you so much!

  21. I am preparing for my first degree in Architecture,So I was wondering if there is any piece of advice I can get from you to get myself up and running. I really want to make an electric start to life as an Architect. Thank You

  22. i 3nd year architecture student i have blocked in my concept .my project is to design a cultural center for tamilnadu.can any one help to unblock me!!!!!

    • Hi, can I recommend you check out some of the articles featured on this site – Space Planning, Precedents, Site Analysis – these should help. There is also the Architects Resources page that has some useful books you could use to help your design.

  23. M.Navaneetha Raj

    Hiii I am doing second year. I have struck with the primary school concept.
    Please help me……..

  24. Thanks to you very much my friend Emma

  25. Muhammed Ashif NK

    i have an idea in architectural concept.i don’t know whom to say it.but am very confident it is workout 100%.i need a help

  26. I am a second year arcbitecture student…. Can someone plzz suggest me a design concept for a preschool…

  27. Its really helpful stumbling on dz chat

  28. I am not an architect, but a homeowner with a creative concept for tract homes that meet the needs of an aging population. Hope one of you can develop it. Those of us looking to downsize want single-level living without enormous condo fees. Builders don’t want to build single-level homes as the returns are not as great as townhouse development. Down-sizing retirees can’t manage 3-level townhomes. My idea is a single-level home with two townhouses above it, side-by-side. It is like a ground-level condo, but this would include a small outdoor space, perhaps a courtyard between home and detached garage. The townhomes would have garage, mudroom, foyer on main level, and stairs to their living areas. Because the townhomes only piggy-back on the single-level home, the stairs aren’t any more trouble than in current townhome design. This would create a mixed community, with retirees and young people together for a nice balance. My husband and I are in our 60s and there are so many like us who want to downsize but need single-level living in an urban/suburban setting without exorbitant condo fees. Can’t find anything like it in new construction in Washington DC area. Older single-level homes are situated on large lots, too much to maintain. There’s a market for this concept.

    • Hi Mary, thank you for taking the time to comment on this site. I think your suggestions are really interesting and hope that someone picks up on your ideas and runs with them. Here in the UK single level living is more common, particularly in the suburbs – but similarly, developers are keen to maximise profit from land and bungalows are demolished to make room for larger 2/3 story dwellings. Thanks again for your comments, certainly worth consideration! All the best to you and your husband.

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