“You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music, but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.” – Renzo Piano
The quest for good architecture stems from our urge to be in an environment that is both comfortable and admirable at the same time. It enhances the overall space, increasing productivity and boosting profits. Good architecture can be argued as being relative. “Beauty lies in the eyes of a beholder” is a phrase with which we are all familiar. In such a world then, as architects, we will have to strive to build architecture which is pleasing to the vast majority, and thankfully some guidelines can be followed to reach an objectively ‘good’ architectural building.
The underlying ideology behind creating the objectively ‘good’ is in its core concept or purpose. A clear notion about its purpose will guide the many decisions that will have to be taken. Why is it built? Who is it built for? The deeper one digs into these questions, better clarity can be achieved. The better understanding of this leads to the initiation of a strong concept. This concept then translates into distinct design principles that can be implemented effectively, leading to good architecture.
Architectural design decisions are defined and shaped by their concepts. This justifies architecture being strongly justified on their strength. A weak piece of architecture is a result of an underdeveloped and ill-conceived concept. A concept provides clarity and a framework for the design process and presentation of a building. However, it does not have to be a singular ‘big idea’, but also a series of smaller narratives and conceptual scenarios. These drive the project forward and are referred throughout the process; being a guide to help answer questions and make decisions. It is critical to define the design concept and stick to it. If not, the resultant design points towards a project that looks pieced together don’t flow right, and overall doesn’t look consistent.
A design concept, no matter how large or small, is the catalyst for the inception of a project and its development.
Objectives and goals are defined at the very beginning of a project that will define its success. A list of needs and wants, a budget, a rough timeline, a site, etc., are all project information that combines to form the project requirements; all of which a design concept must provide for. A good design concept will solve this big complex problem. A concept for the design sets control over the mirage of decisions that can be made in the process of its development. Narrowing down the field of possibilities to reach a cohesive set of guidelines will aid in achieving the larger vision for the project.
‘Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem – the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible – his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints – the constraints of price, of size, of strength, balance, of surface, of time, etc. each problem has its peculiar list.’
– Charles Eames (1907-78)
A concept can be considered as a summarization of the project – identifying the crux of the design, all the various issues it will solve, the different improvements it will make to the society and its ultimate purpose for existence. A clear concept will help in convincing others of the project. It will portray a well-structured thought process, with clarity and a definite purpose, making it easier for others to trust in the project and its reason. This is important because, as architects, we need to convey our idea to our team and our teachers or clients to ultimately see it through construction and its eventual existence.
When people participate in something, there is a sense of ownership and belonging to that purpose. It is inevitable. A design story or a narrative for the building is a catalyst for creating this sense of participation and dialogue between the building and the masses. For philosophers, architectural critics, theorists, students, and the like, concept is the starting point from where they begin their narration. And as they tell their version of the concept, weaving in probable smaller associated narratives within it, the concept evolves, emitting a sense of pride for the storyteller. Taking this forward, a simple design concept for the building, aids in assuring intellectual public engagement with the building.
This overall concept for the design is the basic DNA of the project – the minute element that is in everything and makes up everything. It shows the overall design intent and provides direction from its initial conceptual stage, early schematic design phase, all the way through construction. Having a unified and cohesive design concept makes all future decisions easier as all the important decisions that would ensure the satisfaction of all project requirements have already been taken. The process then is to simply follow the plan.