‘What is your design concept?’ This is something that we hear all the time as architecture students as well as architects. The concept is an essential part of most designs—it represents the idea behind your design; what it stands for, who it is made for. Design concepts in architecture can convey a message or a particular feeling. Designs with strong concepts always tend to stand out from the crowd.

But how do we come up with a concept? Here are 10 Tips on how to Develop Design Concepts in Architecture.

1. Read books | Design Concepts in Architecture

They say there is no friend as loyal as a book. Books act as gateways to the vast world around us. Even in the field of architecture, there is no dearth of books on every topic imaginable. If you are on the lookout for a concept, books are an excellent starting point. Looking into the variety of ways that ideas can be formed and executed is always a good start.

Books like ‘Conditional Design – An Introduction to Elemental Architecture’ and ‘Operative design – A Catalogue of Spatial Verbs’ by Anthony Di Mari—focus on ideating and forming concepts. Books like these give you the basics of the design and the formation of spaces.

On top of that books can give you context through examples and studies. Who knows? Maybe a particular image you find in a book might just reignite your brain and lead you to your next great concept!

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Books act as gateways to the vast world around us ©pixabay.com

2. Sketch out your ideas

An architect is inseparable from his or her sketches. It is an integral part of an architect’s identity with many famous architects being recognized by their sketches alone. For example, Frank Gehry is famous for his quick and rough sketches. But though very basic, his sketches convey the concept of his design almost immediately.

Sketching can really help with designing concepts. When you sketch, your brain thinks and that thought is almost instantly drawn on paper by your hands. This allows you to express ideas that you might have had in your mind but couldn’t quite understand. Sketching those ideas out on paper can lend clarity to them and simplify your design process.

Even when you are not on the lookout for a concept, it is a good habit to keep a sketchbook with you and sketch whenever possible. This way, you can look back on your sketches and find possible ideas from them.

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Frank Gehry is known for his sketches ©pinterest.com
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Sketching is an integral part of architecture ©pixabay.com

3. Look into case studies | Design Concepts in Architecture

Studying from the works of those before we are one of the best ways to understand what works, when, and where. You can look up case studies of the type of concept you are searching for. Case studies can help us understand how different architects have designed according to the various constraints that they have been presented with.

If you are unsure of how to approach a particular site or context, looking up case studies with similar constraints can give you an idea of what to expect and an understanding of how to tackle it. You can even visit the sites directly if possible. Incorporating aspects from your case studies into your design will enhance your concepts and make them even more interesting.

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Case studies can help us understand architecture better ©pixabay.com

4. Approach your idea from different angles

A design concept doesn’t need to be just about form or aesthetics. Sometimes, the concept for a structure might be based on other factors like context, climate, culture, function, etc. For example, the functions of a school might require a design that has a lot of open gathering spaces for various student activities. A house for a large joint family might need a lot of rooms.

A particular material might need to be used extensively because of its cost and availability in a region. Aspects like these need not just be considered as factors but can also be actively involved in forming the concept of your design.

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Approach your idea from different angles ©pixabay.com

5. Take a break, do something else | Design Concepts in Architecture

Sitting for hours and hours at your desk, brainstorming for a design concept in architecture need not always lead to success. Sometimes your brain just needs a break. At this point, you should stop working and do something else. Read a novel. Go for a walk. Call and talk to a friend. If such short breaks are not cutting it for you and you still feel tired and uninspired, perhaps it is time for a longer one!

Yes, even in the field of architecture (one of the most hectic careers in the world), sometimes you just have to stop working and let your mind and body rest. You could do a workout, watch a movie, help in the kitchen, or cook something yourself. When you set your work aside and do something else, it rejuvenates your brain and before you know it—that elusive concept is now right within your eyesight.

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Sometimes we need to take a break. ©vectorstock.com

6. Break it down – make a list

We know it all too well—that increasing pile of work and deadlines that never seems to stop growing! If you start feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that you must get done, that can stop the creative juices of your brain from flowing. Any creative thoughts you might have had comes to a standstill as you feel anxious and tensed. When this happens it is time to break out the list and break it down!

Making lists has been proven to increase productivity. Make a list of all the major tasks that you have to complete in a day. (You can even do weekly and monthly lists) After that, you can break down each large task into several smaller actions. This way the work seems much more manageable. You can even mark the amount of time you will allot for each task to make sure you don’t fall behind on any work.

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Making a list is a great way to organise ©unsplash.com

7. Design in 3D

Once you have a design concept in mind, a good next step would be to think in 3D. You can do this in many ways—manually sketching out a 3D view or perspective, making a physical model by hand, or using one of the several software available for the task like SketchUp or Revit.

Seeing your design concept in three dimensions can help you understand how your idea can work vertically as well as in a plan. Often we make the mistake of limiting our ideas to plans and one-sided views that may not make the full scope of your concept clear. Visualizing your concept in 3D can make you realize how feasible your concept is and how it can be implemented in the real world.

Design in 3D ©pixabay.com

8. Explore Various Permutations | Design Concepts in Architecture

Never get stuck with just one concept or design. Explore various permutations of the same idea, look at various ways in which the same concept can be implemented. How can we make a design better? What aspects should be changed and what should be retained? These choices can provide you with several variations for your design.

Should the walls be made of bricks or bamboo? Should the house have a courtyard or should it have plenty of balconies? Do I need a window here or would an open verandah be better? Don’t just opt for one type of design. Think about all the possibilities. When it comes to ideas, the sky is the limit.

Explore various permutations of the same idea. ©unsplash.com

9. Go Analytical

A concept need not just be about the physical form and spaces of your design. It can also be highly analytical. A large amount of data about various aspects of the design can sometimes be the groundwork from which a strong concept emerges. So if you feel like it fits the situation, then go fully analytical!

Data-driven design, if done correctly, can have excellent results. The data can be about the character of spaces (like inclusivity in public design), effects of spaces on people (like productivity in office spaces, customer satisfaction in shops), or how a particular material affects the atmosphere of a space.

Just like through shapes, concepts can also be developed through data. If the data you have necessitates the need for a particular kind of structure or design, that can be the focal point around which you base your concept. There are several software like QGIS, Green Building Studio by Autodesk, etc., that can calculate these data estimations for you.

Data driven designs can have great results. ©pixabay.com

10. Start over if necessary | Design Concepts in Architecture

Even the best ideas can sometimes end up not being feasible. In such cases, it is better to just start over. Maybe your initial design concept in architecture was great but somewhere along the line the essence of the original idea was lost. A compromise between realizing the concept and realistically finishing your design can sometimes be made, but that might not always be worth it.

Sometimes, it is better to just start over. You can even keep your initial idea and start over from the initial stages of design instead. But in other cases, the very concept needs to be rethought. And that is ok.


Aishwarya G is a student of architecture, who strongly believes in the power of words to change the world. She is very interested in the way that architecture can be expressed through writing, and made accessible to anyone. She is also an avid reader, dancer and loves to travel.