Architectural Design Process for Students

In a conversation with a 200 Level student of architecture at my University today, I could see his enthusiasm to commence studio design even without knowing the architectural design process.

It was his maiden studio work. As I have observed among several of them, they were all fast to skip the proper articulation and documentation of the architectural design process. Straight they went to drawings.

They forgot that this is what distinguishes the way an architect thinks from a quack.

Design can be copied especially in school and so we lay emphasis on the process. Though the process can be copied, it takes some level of genius to do so.

To successfully reproduce and defend a copied architectural design process is difficult. To successfully copy the process you must have a good understanding of it and that’s what we are looking for.

The Architectural Design Process

The articulation and documentation of the design processes for students are essential for their development. The reason is that it’s easier to monitor and redirect the process when it is laid out unlike when it is in the mind alone.

The following guides will help students better document their design process:

Design Brief

For students, every design solution is meant to address a design problem. These problems and design requirements are always communicated in the document called the design brief.

Design Problems

During the analysis of the design brief, some design problems are identified. Also, some were noted during the site inventory.

You will be required to clearly capture in writing and graphics these problems. The entire solution from your design concept, site analysis and space programming sets out to address them.

Site Inventory

For every brief, there will be a corresponding site to host the eventual design. If the site is hypothetical you will be told.

You will need to probe the site to ascertain its condition and how suitable it is for your architectural design. If you were not given the site dimensions, you will have to decide on one.

At the end of your inventory, you should be able to tell the sunset and sunrise direction, wind direction, and noise direction. Also, the site topography, access to the site, possible egress and exit positioning, and types of surrounding buildings should be noted.

Special interest in the site location that can influence design such as water bodies, railway tracks etc can be documented. The site inventory is more like a detailed map of your site before design… and its existing condition.

Site Analysis

All the information you gather in site inventory will ultimately be used to analyze your site. It will influence your design in terms of ventilation, lighting, and building orientation.

Also in your window sizing and shading, design layout, building height, wind direction and effect on the building, etc.

Case Studies

Armed with this information you will identify similar works both foreign and local to study.

At the end of the case study, you will strive to identify the merits and demerits in the works you have studied. This will serve as a guide when you commence your design.

Design Concept

You note the information from your design problems, site analysis and case studies and commence brainstorming. This should be on how to uniquely solve the problems identified.

Here, you develop the underlying logic, thinking and reasoning that will inform your design.

Design Concept implies an idea, or range of ideas, a development approach and a guiding principle.

It resolves the issue of ‘what’ and ‘how much’ and begins to set the stage for understanding ‘how’.

Concept design explores the resolution of the brief.

Concept Development

Once you have decided on the idea to go with, then you start developing it into effective architectural solutions.

So you should make a couple of initial or conceptual sketches at this stage.

Students sometimes have challenges developing or interpreting their concepts into design solutions. Sometimes, when they finish, the relationship between the concept and the final design is often lost.

So you need to be mindful of this. You may not get it on the first try but will need to work on it till it’s perfect.

Spatial Relationship and Programming

Here you will articulate the spatial relationship within your design which could be in the form of a bubble diagram.

A bubble diagram should show individual spaces represented by circles (bubbles) and connected by arrows.

These arrows represent the circulation network. This could be the direction of circulation to and/or from that space (bubble).

It is advised that the sizes of the bubbles should be represented by a ratio of the floor area of the spaces you are designing for. You can get these floor areas and thus ratio from your programming chart.

While Programming on the other hand is used to ascertain what space dimensions and numbers are required for what activity.

For instance, if you were to design a classroom. You will need to know first, the users of that classroom – toddlers, pupils, students etc.

Secondly, the number of users the classroom is meant to accommodate.

Thirdly, the area of space each user will occupy and the type of furniture appropriate for the class (you can get the area from architects’ data).

Lastly, determine the amount of space ideal for circulation. So when you are done you should have something similar to:

Examples of Space Programming:

  • Space: 1 no. Classroom
  • Users: Primary school pupils
  • No. of users: 25
  • Area per user: 0.75sqm (calculate it or consult your architects’ data)
  • Total area for users: 25 users X 0.75sqm = 6.25sqm
  • Area for circulation and other activities (you can also determine this): 5.0sqm
  • Total area for the classroom: 11.25 sqm.

Don’t work in secret, let your coordinators or imstructors know what you are doing

With all these documented you can then commence presentation drawings. After which you run these drawings and the architectural design process by your studio design coordinator.

Don’t be discouraged when you have to go through this process several times to arrive at the desired architectural design solution.

Feel free to ask me any questions, if there are things you will like me to talk more about or those that I have left out please add them in the comment box and I will update it.

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