How to Find Architectural Ideas

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Introduction

Finding architectural ideas can be and often is a difficult process, and whilst the design process presents one of the best aspects of studying architecture and being an architect, finding new ideas every time you are presented with a new project can also be one of the most daunting.

Every design project is different and requires the best design approach possible, and so as you draw to the end of one project, having spent days, weeks and months, researching, testing, and designing, having to start and do this all over again can be very unnerving.

...Doubt can start to creep in, and you may even find yourself asking if you are actually capable of doing it again, or will it be as good as the last project, and where will you find inspiration this time???

The good news is however, that these are completely normal emotions to be feeling and ones that feature very frequently amongst creatives.

In this article we want to help you through this process and offer several of our favourite methods that we have, and still do use to help generate architectural ideas. 

We speak to architects and students that believe each project should be come from a completely unique and bespoke direction and that therefore there couldn’t possibly be a process to the finding architectural ideas. However, where the instruction of the process is the same (so using any of the below methods), if the interpretation is completely individual (the design brief and project analysis), then so will be the results it generates.

Even if you were to do exactly the same project again, your emotions, knowledge, interests etc at that precise time are very likely to generate completely new results and directions of thinking. No two projects are ever the same.

So firstly lets look at: 

“The 4 stages of creative thinking” - Preparation, incubation, illumination and verification

There is a common concept developed by a English social psychologist called Graham Wallas, that believed the creative process could be divided into 4 stages: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. In the first stage, your brain gathers information to form the ingredients to the idea (Preparation). In the second stage, you let your mind connect and mould the information gathered into loose ideas (Incubation). In the third stage, you make connections between ideas (Illumination), and in the fourth stage, the creative ideas gathered are polished by deeper critical thinking in order to reach solid conclusion and outcome (Verification).

This creative process provides a full method for giving birth to creative ideas from no more than a hint of a idea. To look at this further…

01 Preparation

Creativity doesn’t start with an idea, the idea needs to be generated from somewhere and much like the recipe for a cake, you firstly have to combine the ingredients to form the end desired outcome. 

This stage of process is where you gather the information (ingredients) in preparation for them forming a string of influences that lead to the development of an idea.

This provides the foundations and lays the ground work for the thinking and development ahead, by seeking out the questions and understanding of the context and design brief, through precedent research, and site analysis.

02 Incubation

This involves indirectly and unconsciously thinking about the above, by directly letting your thought process go, and purposely doing something completely unconnected to the problem.

Research has shown that by letting your mind wonder in this way, leads it to seeking out connections, determining whats important and to testing ideas. We mention in our "developing an architecture concept" post here that the process of creativity takes time, and that the seed should be planted early, ...this certainly falls into this area.

This process is almost like getting up from your desk after drawing a floor plan or preparing a rendered image; and returning to find that you often see it slightly differently and notice areas you were otherwise blind to. 

This is no different, the initial thinking process needs to be in short frequent bursts over a sustained casual period of time.

03 Illumination

This is the scientific name for the classic "eureka moment" when the connections automatically, subconsciously collide and reach a threshold of consciousness, the idea or ideas coming through are recorded for further testing and development. At this stage it should not be a fully formed idea.

Sketch, model and test everything you have learnt from the above periods and don’t be scared to create more than one solution to the problem, as this can help to evaluate the others and may bring pieces of each idea to make a whole.

04 Verification

Lastly, test and fine tune the ideas to reach the end goal and consider how it is presented to its audience and address’s the problem it has been asked to fix. This doesn't have to be a finished building, but could be part of it, or just the concept, no matter what the area or size of the design problem is, this method can be scaled up or down dependently.

Bisociation  

Coined by Arthur Koestler, bisociation is a term that describes the simultaneous mental association of linking an idea or object with two completely separate and unrelated fields.

It calls for unconventional thinking that aims to remove the common beliefs and repetitive thought processes that more often than not produce similar results.

The aim is to avoid alterations to existing ideas and to create transformations instead. This can be achieved by accepting the limitations to common solutions and aiming to exceed and advance on the previous methods used to create them.

This method is about helping to ensure that no two ideas are the same, and provides each new project with a level of originality in its development and thinking. 

For example, bjarke Ingles brought a recycling centre and a snow covered mountain together to form his waste-to-energy plant in Denmark

Constraints 

Constraints and limits are necessary to any design project, and really provide the backbone to the given problem or requirement, helping to define and shape its success.

A projects constraints can be anything from being client or user orientated through to legal or technical, and should present the opportunity to innovate and push the boundaries forward, rather than limit your creative response.

The restrictions associated to a given project are what makes it unique and what should make your response to it original, as it is often open to interpretation and therefore will vary from designer to designer or architect to architect.

They also provide a type of rule book and set of guide lines to conform to, that offer direction and instruction to the design process, as without this the possibilities would be endless and more than likely completely out of control. 

An example of a constraint at its most basic level would be a site boundary, water course or protected tree or structure, more complex constraints could be allowing for disabled access, programme requirements, or ground conditions.

Precedents 

Following and staying in touch with what is being researched, developed, designed and built has never been easier than it is now. social media is overflowing with information and news on what is happening within and outside the world of architecture and design.

You must collect everything that inspires you, study it and save it, it might not be relevant when you initially discover it but when you need it, you'll know where it is.

Pinterest is just about the most useful resource for collecting ideas, use it as your online image store, and build a library of precedents to help inspire and direct your architectural ideas.

You can see from our account here, that we categorise all the buildings, landscapes, furniture, resources etc that we find into separate boards, making it extremely easy to find as and when.

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Read

We mention this among others in our "17 design tips" post here, but to emphasise this again, there is an abundance and endless supply of inspiration and resources to help find architecture ideas in literature.

With today’s "need it now and quickly" mentality it can be difficult to justify an hour or two to sit down and read, especially when you could watch a 5 to 10 minute video on YouTube summarising what you need to know. 

However its incredibly likely that the author of that video has done their reading first, and in fact knows a lot more about the subject than they need to talk about to get your views.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s an easy way of getting ideas, because they all take time and perseverance.

Learn by reading about the others that have already been through the process and discovered the best ways that have worked for them.

Deadlines

Time restraints are important and provide a sort of additional constraint to add to the above, as without them we would have no way of knowing when to stop.

There’s a common scenario that explains that if you have one day to complete a task then that is the time you will do it within, however if you have three days to complete the same task then this is also the time you will take to complete it in.

We all need deadlines, and self issuing them can speed up your design process and make you more efficient.

Observe

By looking up and observing what is around you, will help you to appreciate and see things from an alternative perspective.

Learn to observe the ideas of others and ask yourself why you like or dislike it and how you would improve it if it where yours.

Training yourself to seek out what isn’t obvious and asking the questions of the things that not everybody see’s, will provide you with a deeper understanding of the elements and influences around you, and this will then start to flow into your own work and give it greater depth.

Do the opposite

When issued with a design problem, spend some time at the beginning trying to take the opposite direction to everyone else, and investigate alternative methods or working.

Or when drawing a floor plan, turn it upside down or mirror it to the opposite side …you will be surprised at just how different the same arrangement looks from an alternative direction.

…Its these bespoke movements in an architects design process that creates the individual magic and originality, so give them a try and let us know how you get on in the comments section below.

…and for more information on the science and practice of creativity check out this great video from OFF BOOK below: