Introduction to architectural and design theories is a primary subject in an architectural school. It has been prepared since ancient times by eminent personalities in the building industry from various beliefs, calculations, and experiments.

French Architect Viollet-Le-Duc sees Architectural theory and practice as two different aspects. He defines them as: Theory – is that which deals with what is permanent and always valid notably the rules of art and laws of statics. Practice – which seeks to adapt these external laws to the variable conditions of time and space.

Design Theories

Architectural or Design theories are formulated by eminent architects and theorists based on various beliefs, studies, experiments, research, and analysis. They are taught in architectural schools that include its principles, systems, processes, understanding of architecture, philosophies, objectives, etc., and are published in books, magazines, newsletters during these modern times. It includes Form, organizing principles – symmetry, repetition, gradient, Datum, axis, hierarchy; Function – performing and expression of spaces; Materialization – an articulation of materials enclosing rooms; Design objectives; Ideas; organization of design principles, Form, and function, etc.

Architectural theories are also stated by eminent architects from Vitruvius in the past to Frank Llyod Wright, Frank Gerry, Philip Johnson in the 19th and 20th centuries. Out of many, few of the well-known architects and architectural design theories are –

  1.  Le Corbusier – Five points of architecture
  2. Peter Eisenman – Post Functionalism
  3. Louis Sullivan – Form ever follows function
  4. Mies Van Der Rohe – Universal space theory
  5.  Geoffrey Brodbent – Theory of signs
  6. Robert Venturi – complexity and contradiction

Architectural Practice

Just as a lawyer practices Law; architects practice architecture, designing and planning for buildings. Architectural practice includes the integration of multiple skills of science, art, mathematics, history, technology, and philosophy in an organized manner implementing practically the design theories studied through years. In other ways, whatever an architectural task is, it indicates the utilization of design theory. It is the real-life physical task of architectural students on what has been taught in the form of design theories and methodologies.

Design Theories and Architectural Practice | Design theories

Design theories and their practice in Architecture are directly related to each other. Neglecting design theories and constructing buildings will create negative and non-functional spaces driving architects out of reach. Meanwhile, considering only design theories and lacking practice will leave the architect challenging to face the real problems of people’s life and living.

Three examples of the use of Design Theories in Architectural Practice 

1. Symmetry in Architecture | Design theories

Symmetry is one of the ordering principles in architecture. It is the reflection of various elements of architecture, its forms, shapes, and features along its central axis. Symmetry is a balanced distribution of spaces; it creates a sense of calm and visual balance for the viewer. Most of the ancient and modern architectural facades are spectacular and mesmerizing with the principle of symmetry used by the architects. Symmetry in exterior articulates and signifies a balanced unity of clustered forms in a fascinating manner that attracts defining its character.

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Humayun’s tomb (symmetry in facade) Delhi_©

2. Le Corbusier – Five Points of Architecture

Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture – 1) Pilotis: elevating the ground floor by structural columns for aesthetics 2) the free design of ground plan 3) the free design of façade 4) provision of horizontal windows 5) Roof Garden.

These five points can be distinctly seen in the Villa Savoye. Villa Savoye is standing freely with the help of reinforced concrete columns creating an open floor plan on the ground floor and upper floors. The long horizontal windows provide ample light and ventilation that bring forth direct views of the outside environment from the building. With the free-standing columns and walls, the façade creates an aesthetic value that includes function. The roof serves as a multi-purpose space.

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Le Corbusier Five points of architecture_©Pinterestpin

3. Louis Sullivan – Form Follows Function | Design theories

The famous phrase often heard is the “form follows function” coined by architect Louis Sullivan. It states that the shape of the building should relate primarily to its function. The Wainwright building is one of the compelling examples of the form following function. The exteriors and the façade reflect the internal functions of spaces. Here, the functions of lower floors, central floors, and the top attic area are quite different. The façade with terracotta as the primary material; comprises three parts with distinct lighting and openings configuration based on the interior functional aspects. 

Mainwright building_©

It is equally significant to utilize effectively the theories that existed from the past, relating to the present and planning for the future. Entirely, depending on the use of design theories in architectural practice cannot present any challenges for productive, innovative work and solve the problems faced by modern fluctuating design standards. However, it is the responsibility of an architect to balance with the use of design theories in architectural practice in today’s multiple networks of the construction industry.


Sahithi is an Indian-based Architect and Interior designer. While Architecture is her profession, writing is her passion and makes her feel compelling. She believes writing about Architecture can bring a positive change and develop a sensitivity towards culture and Heritage.Despite these,she loves traveling.