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Introducing Architecture Design Factors

Not sure where to start with your architecture design project? Overwhelmed by information and the brief and requirements and the client and precedents and diagrams and brainstorming and what to do first?

Trying to sort through all the information at the start of a project can be overwhelming. Development of an architectural design requires two different types of activities that run parallel in the early stages of design:

  • Objective |  Gathering data, information and research about aspects of the project.
  • Subjective | Analysis, options, strategies and responses to data, information and research.

Design is not a linear process in that we complete one task and then move onto the next. We constantly need to revisit, revise and refine our design through the design process.

Nine key aspects can be considered in the early stages of a project that all feed into developing the design. They are not the design, but they each contribute to the final design and outcome in their way. Each aspect of design outlined here requires objective research and data and information gathering AND then a more subjective analysis and response to that data and information as the design develops.

01 | Brief

The first step is to review the project brief in as much detail as possible. The project brief will include information about the design, the process and the overall project such as:

  • Project details | Details of the location, client and overall project requirements.
  • Existing conditions | Any givens, assumptions, opportunities or constraints about the site, client, user, or any other aspects of design outlined here. Some of these can begin to be allocated to other aspects of design.
  • Project vision and objectives | What the client wants to achieve from the project. This may include quantitative goals that can be measured or more qualitative ideals that are achieved through the experience of the end-user.
  • Scope of services (design) | What exactly you are expected to do and provide in terms of design, documentation and deliverables.
  • Scope of works (project) | The extent of the project in broad terms of any typology, size, new-build, renovation or restoration, and any demolition works.
  • Timeframe and schedule | How long you have to complete the project and any milestones or key submissions.
  • Project cost and fees | The overall cost of a project and the budget you need to work within, and fees for your services.

To review the brief, grab a pen and highlighter and start to identify all the requirements that apply to the project design. One thing to look out for is any information with a number that indicates size, quantity or timeframes.

The brief can start as a broad document and may be developed over time to capture further detail of all the project and client requirements such as programme or site constraints in one place.

The brief is a document that needs to be easily accessible and referred to often to make sure your design is complying with all the project, process and design requirements.

02 | Context (Site + Existing Conditions)

The site and existing conditions include the bounded site area that your project can be designed within. The site, existing conditions as well as surrounding conditions need to be recorded and analysed.

Information about the site is gathered and recorded in two ways: through a desktop study of plans, drawings, reports, documents or photographs, and a physical site visit where you get to record the site in great detail.

Analysis of the site can be done by considering the information in two ways. The first approach to analysis includes considering:

  • Hard or objective data | Physical site conditions that do not change such as:
    • General
    • Activities and patterns | Location, dimensions, existing structures on the site.
    • Geography | Natural features, topography (contours), vegetation, soils, water.
    • Climate | Sun, shadow, temperature, wind, precipitation (rain, snow)
  • Soft or subjective data | Qualities, characteristics and sensory aspects of the site that can change and be viewed in different ways including views in and out, sound, noise, site features, on-site activities and patterns, security, protection or safety, circulation and movement paths, or entry or exit points.

The second approach to analysis includes:

  • Mega | The larger landscape beyond the site and into the city, urban or rural surrounds.
  • Macro | The site and immediate or adjacent surrounds.
  • Micro | The detailed elements, character and qualities within the site.

Analyses can be delved into much deeper and the subjective and objective data can be considered at mega, macro and micro scales. Site analysis is about finding patterns, qualities, opportunities and constraints in and around the site that can help guide the concept and design decisions.

03 | Context (User/s)

The user is the person or people or groups of people who will use and experience the final project. These may be different from the client. For example, a board of a university may be the client for a new building but the users are staff, students and visitors. The client may not ever intend to use the building.

It is important to differentiate between the needs and desires of the client and the needs and desires of the different users.

Aspects of the different users to consider include:

  • User groups | Unique characteristics and qualities of their physical form, personality and psychology, identities, roles, relevant activities, hobbies, interests and movements.
  • Demographic | Socio-economic, cultural and economic context.
  • Experiential | What the user wants to sense and experience as they move through the project  -what do they want to hear, taste, smell, see and touch.
  • Aspirations | The vision, aspirations, desires and hope for the project.

04 | Architectural Programme

The architectural programme refers to the functional, operational and spatial requirements of the project. These may be developed in the initial brief or through discussions with the client and users about their practical requirements. It can be considered a more practical aspect of user considerations and includes:

  • Practical and functional considerations | A list of required spaces to include area or dimensions, number of people per space, the equipment, furniture or vehicles to be included in the space, activities and movement to be undertaken in the space.

05 | Typology

The typology is the type of building or structure you are being asked to design. For example a house, hospital, school, city or university campus masterplan, shopping centre or office high-rise.

This is where it may be important to consider precedents and study examples of similar work to determine good examples and bad examples, what works and what does not work and what is the current best practice for this type of project. Consideration could be given to examples in the local areas as well on a broader national or international scale.

06 | Formal Design Elements And Principles

Formal design elements and principles are used as the design develops to start to create spaces in response to all the project requirements.

Elements of architectural design are fundamental components or pieces that are used in different ways in all design. They include:

  • 3D or Spatial design elements | Point, line, plane, form or volume, space.
  • 2D design elements | Shape, colour, texture, scale, proportion.
  • Experiential sensations | Light, view, touch, sound, smell.

Principles of architectural design are the way different elements are arranged. They include:

  • Enclosure | Qualities of surfaces, edges and openings.
  • Organization of form and space | Spatial relationships, spatial organisations (linear, grid, centralised, radial, clustered)
  • Movement through space | Approach and entry, path configuration and access, the sequence of spaces.
  • General design principles | Used in all types of design including axis, symmetry, hierarchy, datum, rhythm, repetition, transformation.

07 | Material And Technology

As you gather information about the typology, site, user, and programme, you will start to develop ideas about the material and technology that could be used in the design. Considerations include:

  • Material properties | Aesthetic, durable, physical, mechanical, chemical, electrical, magnetic, thermal
  • Sustainability | Is the material good for people, the planet and the environment? What impact does use of the material have?
  • Structure and enclosure | What is the structure and level of enclosure required?
  • Internal environment + user response | Health, safety and welfare of the users.
  • External environment response | Environmental protection and comfort from external climate and elements.

08 | Concept

The concept is an idea or a thought conceived in the mind about the physical qualities and characteristics of the architectural project and what it might be, or be like or is about. It normally comes during the early stage of the project and is used as a reference or framework to guide all decisions.

A concept will usually draw from or respond to one or more of the aspects of design outlined here. A concept can either be one strong idea or a series of complementary smaller ideas that work together across one or several themes.

A concept might come quite clearly to the idea to the designer as a clear idea to be explored for this particular project. Or, a designer may develop a particular interest in one area that is applied to all their work. For example, some architects have a focus on sustainability or particular materials, or an aesthetic style or theme they apply to all their work as a growing body of exploration that clients come to them for. The most successful projects have a clear concept that can be described simply and easily recognised in the design.

09 | Collaboration

Collaboration is the process of working with other people on a project. The benefits of collaboration are that you are exposed to different ideas and perspectives about the project, your work and the way the design could proceed.

At university, collaboration comes from presentations, discussion and feedback with tutors and other students. In practice, collaboration comes from discussions with peers, other architectural and design team members, authorities such as councils or utilities, water, gas or electricity providers, and consultants such as structural, electrical or mechanical engineers or interior designers.

Like concept development, input from the collaboration will be drawn from the different aspects of design mentioned here as each person on the team may see things differently and have different ideas.

What Next?

Research and information gathering provides clear constraints and opportunities and clarifies the bounds you must work within and can stretch beyond. Once you have gathered as much information as possible you can start to develop and explore a site strategy, concept and design response.

The design process will start to bring some order to all the preliminary information by testing different options, strategies and responses. The design development process becomes a juggling act of all the different considerations outlined here so that everything is included and considered with little or no compromise in the best possible solution.

Liz at ArchiMash


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