How Does an Architect Design?

People are often amazed at how we as architects design; perhaps because they can’t do it. That’s ok, because I can’t do most things others can do. That is why I am an architect (answered that in a previous post). There may be a magic or mystique to design from their point of view, especially when we come up with designs from scratch. That may be true, but it is also work, repetition, searching and at times serendipity. Nevertheless, as a continuation of my post from the career fair discussion (architecture inspires) I will share some of the process that I shared with these students. If you are not an architect, hopefully you will briefly see behind the curtain and gain a larger appreciation of the time and skill it takes to design.

This is merely a glimpse into the initial design process and not intended to follow the entire documentation process to the end. There is no singular answer to how an architect designs, especially at the beginning of a project. Nevertheless, we will focus on what I feel is the most misunderstood part; the initial process of generating and exploring ideas. For me architecture starts with ideas.  Ideas come from many sources, but architects are educated in a variety of diverse subjects from spatial design, history, structures, environmental studies, composition, and a host of other technical subjects. Therefore it is more than intuition or a mechanical process, but a result from a collection of education and experience within the bounds of creativity. It goes far beyond taste and what we like; it is about what each project could be.

Architects express ideas through sketching. It is our way of communicating and exploring. The first sketches are often awful, but it gets it out of our heads. Without ideas, there is no architecture. Architecture is more than space planning and arranging a program.  Ideas are generated and influenced by many sources (read the last post). In some ways, the ideas are reactions to the fixed or known aspects of the site, program and client. However, to get past that into the wonder of opportunities is where it gets to be fun. In conjunction with or apart from analytical work, we as architects must sketch and sketch a lot.

Sketching must continue and more ideas are tested and explored. Scroll through the slideshow to see some examples.

Since architecture is all about space, we often build physical and digital models to see and test our ideas. We think of them as 3d sketches.

This process continues to work to refine, test, reinvent and redo. I have often teased that architects need small pencils and large erasers.

One critical skill is the architect must be able to think in three dimensions…always.

Once a series of sketches and ideas become developed into scalar building elements, the process evolves into more precision. We’ll explore that in a future post.

Now for those of you who doodle in your notebook, on your placemat (fancy restaurants-huh?) or in a sketch book like I do, did you realize you were expressing your ideas? It is all about ideas, what do you think?



If you’re interested in reading more please go to thinkarchitect. The orignal article can be found here

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