This site is intended as a resource for students of architecture. I believe that the problems of teaching architectural design are distinct from science-based and other art-based disciplines. Over the course of the last 50-60 years architecture courses have bounced back and forth between being hosted by engineering and arts/humanities departments. This largely reflects fashions in the how the discipline is perceived and defined. The tendency today is for an alliance with the arts. There are good reasons for this but there are pitfalls. One of these is the emphasis placed on (a poorly defined notion of) creativity at the expense of core skills. The subjective aspects of designing can be taken to extremes. This may be fine for some and merely an issue of design ideology, but I have found students to become extremely confused in the absence of parameters to hold on to. The intention here is not to suggest that there is a single and correct way of designing, nor that design is an objective process. It is, however, partially objective and it is just as possible to do things which are quantifiably incorrect in architecture as there is in any other discipline. The purpose of this blog is to provide some footholds for students in the process of design and also to demystify that process. Many books (some of which will be reviewed here) have been written on the subject, none of them arriving at a perfect and complete definition, but most arrive at a definition that is graspable and less mysterious than what most students experience. Design will always require hard work, judgement and intuition, but it must also employ logic, techniques and consistency in your thought process.
1) Then entries that follow will sometimes sound like ‘rules’ but they are not intended this way. They are guidelines, recurrent patterns, rules of thumb (that always require adaptation) or merely examples of common design responses. Here you may find yourself in disagreement with my approach – learning to design does not mean coming up with something that has never been done before. A design solution can be an intelligent adaptation or twist on a familiar solution. This requires as much creativity and intelligence as coming up with a ‘radical’ or never-before-seen solution. I would argue that it requires more intelligence, hard work and creativity.
2) Many of the suggestions here are about form, that is, about configurations, organisations and geometries. This underlies my belief that the forms and spaces of architecture have a significant impact on the way people interpret, appropriate, and use a design. Every formal solution encourages some ways of using its space while discouraging or preventing other uses. Note that I did not say ‘determines’ – the idea that architecture precisely controls how people feel and behave is called ‘environmental determinism’ and has been discredited. Unfortunately, with the bathwater (determinism) went the baby (form), and so today little attention is paid to the forms and spaces of designs. If you do not think form is important this site will not help you and you should seek advice elsewhere.
3) You may not be able to discuss the ideas on this site with your tutor – there are good and bad reasons for this.
a) Many of the ideas here are not really issues of discussion, but simply tips to get you on with the process of design, help you reflect on your process, aid you in self-critique and evaluation, or get you past the inevitable procrastination or designers block issues. They are more like underlying principles that help designs along, like choosing the right pen or paper or printer paper (but I think, just a little more significant than that).
b) The ideas here should not be mistaken for ‘design concepts’ or as replacement for the idea you have for your design. They are tools. So again, this doesn’t necessarily merit prolonged discussion with your tutor.
c) Your tutor may not know about or understand these ideas. They may simply have never encountered them during their own education. They might be pleasantly surprised to see you working with them.
d) Your tutor may be aggressively and violently opposed to such ideas. There are some who feel that there are no such things as ideas about architecture that can be generalised; others who think such things stifle creativity; yet others who think that form and space are irrelevant. It’s up to you to agree or disagree with their point of view and to decide whether this site is useful or not.
4) None of the ideas on this site are magic bullets. You still need to put in hard work, test permutations, and evolve your own project. There are many factors you will need to think about that will not be covered here (material considerations, site conditions, cultural influences, and so on). I only hope something here made part of your work easier, and most importantly, less mysterious.
5) The site is not aimed at any particular level of study. I’ve tried to write the entries so that they would make sense to a first year student, however, the content should be useful to a 5th year student as well. I am happy to expand on and eloborate on any topic – even explain it on a more theoretical and philosophical level – just leave a comment and I’ll find time to reply.
6) Very few of these ideas are my own. Where possible I have indicated where the idea has come from. I have adapted, extended, or transformed some of these from their original sources based on my teaching experience. A few are so generalised that no specific original source exists.