How To Think Outside The Box For Architects

When I first heard the phrase ‘architects thinking outside the box’ many years ago, I was a little confused. It made me curious why you will suggest one thinks outside the box.

Maybe my understanding of the phrase was responsible. I assumed it meant breaking rules with our thought process and wondered if the design therefore would be acceptable. For example, I am given a design brief and while thinking outside the box, present a design solution not fitting for the design problem. Then certainly I have exhibited incompetence.

What does it truly mean to think outside the box?

Thinking outside the box is actually metaphoric. It simply means to think differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective. this is in order to deliver novel or creative concepts.

Many years ago outside the box thinking was a literal attempt at solving certain creativity problems.

One such was the nine-dot puzzle (and how to connect all the dots using a straight continuous line).

Now as an architect, have you been thinking outside the box?

The answer is simple, look at all your past and present projects. Check to see if they were novel i.e. original or interesting. If they were not then there are ways of achieving that.

How to think outside the box for architects | CCTV towers by Rem Koolhass
CCTV’s Tower in Beijing by Rem Koolhaas completed in 2008

Thinking outside the box is a simple yet complex process depending on your approach and disposition to it.

It will also depend on your experience with it. Outside-the-box thinking requires the following characteristics;

Divergent thinking

  • Playfulness or Serious Play
  • Originality

Convergent thinking

  • Intelligence or sound reasoning
  • Confidence or courage

The formula for thinking outside the box:

Playfulness + Originality + Intelligence + Courage = Novel concept.   The various component that makes up the formula are expanded thus:


It means allowing for ambidextrous thinking, curiosity and ultimately creativity. It involves ‘going wide’ in terms of concept.

The products of outside-the-box thinking initially appear unserious and sometimes childish.

Here you will explore many solutions (possible or impossible) while letting go of all inhibitions.

Often you achieve the best results when you involve other architects in a group. In this brainstorming process, you don’t judge the ideas generated. Naturally, good ones will rise to the top and bad ones will fall off.


This means letting your essence shine through on the product of this thinking (concepts). Your ideas are most novel when you are original.


In that playfulness, you will need to carefully articulate your ideas to make them functional, structural and appealing.

Also mentally working out the complex details of adapting it to work with available materials and methods.

Here you begin to narrow down all your possible solutions to the final solution.


You will need confidence in your conviction because even your mind will challenge a radical idea. Especially if you have tried it before and failed.

Also, your concepts will come under serious scrutiny and criticism, so brace up and have confidence in it.

In Summary, outside-the-box thinking means consciously setting aside your default approach to design. while embracing an original, intelligent yet playful approach that resonates with your essence.

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