Concept as a word or an idea goes beyond architecture and is applicable to every creative venture in life. Concept simply means a guiding principle or a basic idea. It has been used in architecture to birth very original works by great architects. Concept generation is one of the stages of architectural design.
Very often, I entertain architecture students in my office who are very desirous to understand what concepts are. Also how to use them in their studio architectural designs.
Despite their desire to learn, the word “Concept” often leaves them confused after several attempts to decode and understand it.
The analogy of the Architectural concept
I occasionally start my explanation of a concept from a very simple illustration I know they can relate to -A party.
I tell them to imagine they were all having a party and have decided the party for special reasons would be a “White party”.
Then, I asked what they thought about that.
Their reply mostly is – “that’s not a bad idea”.
I usually go further to ask if the white party idea paints any picture in their minds.
To this, they mostly reply, “Yes!”So I ask them – “If you are to organize a white party, how will you go about it?”
I get varying answers from them, some say – “everyone will wear white or a touch of white”, others – “we will have the party in a room or building painted white” and some others – “since white is a light colour, we will only play light music”.
Explanation of Architectural concept
Commencing my explanation, I say to them that in the illustration the ‘White party’ was the Concept. Their suggestions on how the white party can be carried out were the concept development.
Just like you had a white party you can also have blue, red, black, green, orange etc parties. Thereby doing the same thing in different ways… and this is the beauty of the concept.
Now when it comes to architecture, we deploy concepts the same way as the “White Party”. However, in doing so we often approach it from different angles.
Concepts can be organizational, material-based, functional, structural or form-based.
What is most important is that your design is tied to an idea and tells a story… most preferably a good story. According to the 30X40 Design Workshop, one of the merits of designing with a concept is that it enriches the experience of using that project. It also gives it a reason and meaning for being.
Also when you are stuck in design your concept helps to redirect, organize and guide you in how best to relate your story.
Sources of Architectural concept
The concept can come from anywhere.
- Client (brief). For example, if he insists all his rooms should be cross-ventilated and en-suite… that could be your concept.
- Site – an example is when the site is surrounded by beautiful scenery and you decide you want your design to take advantage of the view.
- Identified problem – for instance, a windy site and you decide you want your building to aerodynamically flow with the winds rather than resist it.
- Predicted users of your building – for example when designing an old people’s residence you decide that this building should foster a sense of home and family. Maybe when designing a hospital you decide that this building should promote a sense of healing in the patients.
- Form – for instance when you design you decide that this building should promote a sense of awe etc.
Furthermore, an architectural design can be made of multiple concepts. The interpretation or development of a concept is as important as the Concept itself.
This is where students often have challenges. On several occasions, I have seen students conceive beautiful ideas but simply can’t develop them into great designs.
Thus, a concept is useless if it is not well developed.