How To Be A Better Architect: 17 steps to help improve your architecture design skills

More than just designers of buildings, we as architects are storytellers, problem-solvers, and visionaries...

More than just designers of buildings, we as architects are storytellers, problem-solvers, and visionaries. Our work isn’t simply confined to walls, roofs, and floors; it encompasses the dreams, aspirations, and practical needs of the people who inhabit these spaces.

The architectural profession, however, is not static. As with the world around it, it’s in a state of constant flux, influenced by societal changes, technological advancements, and shifting aesthetic tastes. Each era ushers in new challenges and possibilities, demanding us to adapt, innovate, and envision anew.

So how do we be better architects?

In such a dynamic field, becoming proficient isn’t enough. The true call is to be exceptional, staying always a step ahead, ready to merge the past’s wisdom with the future’s promise.

In this post we present 17 steps to help improve your architectural design process and ultimately how to be a better architect. Some of which we have used as students and others we have developed and discovered over time as design architects.

These strategies include:

  1. Read Le Corbusier’s An Analysis of Form
  2. Create a Pinterest account
  3. Visit Architecture shows and exhibitions
  4. Steel and borrow, don’t copy
  5. Use your site
  6. Don’t underestimate the power of literature
  7. Architecture lectures
  8. Ask questions
  9. Find “your” architecture
  10. Use the landscape
  11. Spatial verbs
  12. Give yourself time
  13. Don’t ignore structure
  14. Start a design blog
  15. The plan is your generator
  16. Be relevant
  17. Manage criticism

Starting at the very beginning of a design project can be a daunting and intimidating task, especially when mild panic sets in because that initial spark of inspiration hasn’t come yet …it becomes even harder and designing under pressure is incredibly difficult.

Do you find design projects difficult?

Have confidence in your design process.

The good news is that the stereotypical architect’s sketch of that eureka moment on the back of a cigarette packet or beer mat rarely exists, and good ideas are developed, grown and adapted through solid site analysis, research and experimentation …it takes time

We have gone into the site analysis process in great depth, and the below two posts offer an introduction into the methods we describe:

Introduction to Architecture Site Analysis

What to do on your first Site Analysis Visit

We can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. The site is there to guide and help you generate a meaning architectural response, and so should be used to its full advantage.

In tandem to this, we believe there are other resources to use and skills to help develop and improve your architecture design process through using:

  • Literature
  • Online resources
  • Exhibitions & lectures
  • Awareness of what is around and available to you
  • Your peers and mentors
  • The outside and connecting influences
  • And being patient and trusting in the process

So firstly… 

How To Be A Better Architect…

01 Read Le Corbusier’s An Analysis of Form by Geoffrey Baker

This is an excellent book that breaks down the thinking and thought process’s behind some of Corbusier’s most relevant works, and emphasizes just how important and pertinent the site is to the architecture design process and how it can be used.

The methods described in this book allow the reader to develop and learn how to take key site elements and use them to shape and justify their own design decisions. This is wonderfully presented though hand drawn diagrams and sketches

This is one of our favorite and first books we discovered that provides a foundation and process to using site analysis data to inform an architecture proposal, and we can’t recommend it enough.

02 Create a Pinterest account

Pinterest hopefully needs no introduction, as it is undoubtedly the best and really the only online image store that’s worth investing time into.

As architects and architecture students we need to be saving every little bit of influence and inspiration you can get your hands on, and if you don’t already have an account, please get one … you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

The images (here called pins) you save can be organised into separate categories (boards) to allow them to be easily referenced when required. For example, you could have boards for house’s, school’s, public buildings, materials, lighting, interiors, staircases, fireplaces …as many as you can think of. There will almost always be a time and place when they are needed.

Take a look at our account here, for an example of how organize your pins and to get creating your own online image store.

Pinterest has also become a very powerful search engine for images, that for architecture and design now rivals even a Google image search.

Its usefulness comes from the recommended images it provides to its search results or a recently pinned (saved) image. This can be extremely useful when looking for inspiration and examples of buildings types, materials etc.

So get pinning!

Better Architect

03 Visit Architecture shows and exhibitions

This is no secret, but one that we often become lazy in doing. For both students and architects, architecture school shows offer a huge variety of projects and media’s to provide us with inspiration.

The biggest advantage to these shows is that a lot of the projects exhibited have often been designed without or with limiting boundaries and restrictions. They provide a very experimental and often a refreshing break from the norm. …and for qualified architects a bit of nostalgia.

These shows are also a good opportunity to stay up to date with current architectural representation techniques, and as a student, you can bench mark yourself against your peers, and of course aim to better it. 

For architects, there will be elements that can be taken back to the studio, even if it’s just a refreshed excitement for a future architecture project.

 04 Steel and borrow, don’t copy

There is an excellent book that we recommend to every young architect, student and designer by Austin Kleon called Steal Like an Artist. This book points out that nothing is original, and that we as creatives should embrace influence, collect ideas, and re-mould what already exists. Don’t copy …steal.

Today it is incredibly difficult and maybe even impossible to truly create originality, and we shouldn’t be afraid of this, we should embrace it and use it to our advantage. There has never been so much accessible content to beg, borrow and steal. Collect it all!

05 Use your site 

Designing a building in isolation without any site specific influences, is the worst thing you can do. The greatest tool to your design process should always be the projects site, and we have gone into this in great depth here and here 

The site is there for you to respond to and use to your advantage, it provides meaning and context to your design process, and when used correctly, will provide a frame work to work within, helping to answer design related questions.

The analysis period is a process and method of working that can be repeated and transferred between projects, its then the way the results are interpreted and analysed that leads to the creation of meaningful architecture.

Better Architect

06 Don’t underestimate the power of literature

The environment we live and work in has become heavily influenced by online media and the need for information now. We are far more inpatient than we have ever been and are constantly looking for the quickest answers to our questions.

Short cuts rarely exist in any design process, and none more so than in architecture. To create meaningful design takes time, and time away from your screen to physically read related books can be incredibly powerful.

We recommend some of the best architecture design books we’ve discovered here, but there are a vast array of others to choose from. We are ourselves are also very guilty of “not having the time” to read, but if you can find it, it will strengthen your knowledge greatly.

07 Architecture lectures

In understanding how a certain building was procured or how a practice generates its projects, there is nothing better than hearing it first hand from the architect or architects responsible.

Architecture lectures provide this platform and open up opportunities to see and hear your favorite architects talk about their projects and inspirations. 

It is also a chance to meet up with other architecture friends and peers, which often provides a very interesting insight into their own work.

Lectures provide a chance to connect with the industry you are part of, and its important to immerse yourself into it as much as you can, and collect information from as many sources as possible.

We rarely leave a lecture feeling underwhelmed.

08 Ask questions

Whether you are a student or an already qualified architect, never stop asking questions …this is how you learn.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of other people, speak to your tutors and the senior members of staff you work with, absorb their knowledge and learn everything you can from them.

Understanding why things are the way they are, and what led to the decisions that created them, is key in developing your architectural design and concept abilities, as mentioned above, you need to act like sponges and absorb it all.

Time to time you will find yourself disagreeing with what they saying, but take a step back and just listen, there is always something to gain from someones else knowledge.

09 Find “your” architecture

Find your favorite building and / or architect and become obsessed by it. 

Ask yourself “why do i like it?”, “what is it about their work that captures my attention?”, and research and read everything you can about it. Fully immersing yourself into their work until there are no questions left to answer. …and then repeat.

10 Don’t ignore the landscape

The landscape is every part as important to the site as the architecture itself, the two need to work together and compliment each other

For this reason its important to not leave this part of the design process to the end of a project, it needs to be considered at the early design stages and be in harmony with the architectures concept development.

A go to source of inspiration for us is Peit Audolf, we strongly advise that you research and get to know your favorite landscape architects, just as you would your favorite architects.

11 Spacial verbs books

The spacial verbs books by Anthony di Mari offer a really useful and quick reference source of inspiration for generating the form and massing at the start of the architectural design process. 

In an almost dictionary format of ideas, none of them are site specific (which actually makes them more useful), but aim to provide inspiration and a starting point to develop an architectural concept around.

We have links to both books here

12 Give yourself time

As we have mentioned, the design process and development takes time. Ideas need to be tested and allowed to adapt, and this process shouldn’t be rushed.

So don’t be impatient, and make sure you leave enough time for it develop before it has to be presented 

13 Don’t ignore the structure

it’s very easy especially as a student when you may be not so aware of the limitations, to ignore or at least brush over your projects structural limitations

Creativity is one thing, but if it won’t be able to stand up then it is useless and/or very time consuming to make right.

14 Start a design blog

Starting a design blog even if it’s just a visual diary can be an excellent way to record daily inspiration and create a personal library of ideas. 

Tumblr provide a good platform for this, but for something more formal, squarespace and WordPress have some great templates.

We have list of our favorite here for some inspiration

Better Architect

15 The plan is the generator  

Le Corbusier’s book, Towards a New Architecture states that the plan is the generator. 

He quotes “Without plan, you have lack of order and wilfulness. The plan holds in itself the essence of sensation. The great problems of tomorrow, dictated by collective necessities, put the question of ‘plan’ in a new form. Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and for the city”

Meaning that when designing a building, the form needs to be generated by the plan and its accommodation. It would be impossible to produce any sort of successful building without first and continuous consultation of its interior arrangement and requirement.

16 Be relevant

Stay up to date with the industry you are in and want to be part of. 

Being aware on the latest building technologies, construction techniques, regulations and current projects will ensure you and your design process are adapting and moving forward. Stay in touch with the discussions within and about architecture, and use the topics to help and inspire your critical thinking.

A very easy way to do this is to subscribe to architecture and design specific blogs and/or start a subscription with your favorite periodical.

sign up to the newsletters for your favorite design blogs and at least every other day visit their websites, study what others are doing. If you admire someones work, then ask yourself you why and the same if you dont. 

Podcasts are also an excellent way of staying current, with a range of news, industry, design and business related discussions available.

17 Don’t be afraid criticism

Architecture is extremely subjective and this is as much a positive part of it as it is a negative. There will always be people that dont like what you design, but there will also hopefully be just as many that do. So don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family and peers to critique your work. 

Use this. Its very easy to take people opinions personally (most people do), but take the positives, listen to their reasoning …more often than not it will help develop your project further.

To sum up…

Every design architect is faced with a blank piece of paper at the beginning of a project and as long as it’s not your first ever go at design, you’ll know that eventually the white empty space your initially faced with will soon start developing into a workable solution, it just takes time.

 …don’t let the initial pressure of needing an idea or design concept cloud your thinking. 

Design is fun (it’s why most of us chose to study architecture in the first place), so enjoy it, experiment and test every medium you can think of.

…and if you think we’ve missed anything or have any questions, please leave us a comment below

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FAQs about how to be a better architect

What makes a good architect?

A good architect is someone who seamlessly blends a multitude of skills, both technical and intangible, to design spaces that are functional, aesthetic, and meaningful. Below are several characteristics and qualities that define a good architect:

  1. Technical Proficiency: A good architect must be well-versed in the foundational principles of architecture, construction methods, materials, and building systems. This requires continuous learning and staying updated with the latest technologies and techniques in the field.
  2. Creative Vision: At the heart of architecture lies creativity. A good architect is capable of visualizing innovative solutions, thinking out of the box, and bringing a unique perspective to design challenges.
  3. Problem Solving: Every project comes with its own set of challenges. A good architect approaches these as opportunities, finding solutions that marry function with form, and utility with aesthetics.
  4. Attention to Detail: Precision is crucial. From the broader conceptual design to the intricate detailing of specific components, a good architect ensures that every element is thoughtfully considered and integrated.
  5. Strong Communication Skills: Architects must articulate their ideas to clients, contractors, and other stakeholders. This involves strong verbal, written, and visual communication skills, including the ability to create compelling presentations and detailed drawings.
  6. Empathy and Understanding: A good architect listens to and understands the needs, desires, and concerns of clients and end-users. This allows them to design spaces that are truly tailored to the inhabitants.
  7. Collaborative Spirit: Architecture is rarely a solitary endeavor. Collaborating with various professionals, including engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, and even urban planners, is often essential. Teamwork and the ability to integrate multiple viewpoints are key.
  8. Ethical Practice: Upholding ethical standards, considering the social and environmental impacts of design decisions, and practicing with integrity are hallmarks of a commendable architect.
  9. Adaptability: Given the changing nature of projects, client needs, and unforeseen challenges, adaptability is essential. A good architect remains flexible while staying committed to the project’s vision.
  10. Commitment to Sustainability: In today’s world, it’s imperative for architects to prioritize sustainable design practices, understanding the long-term environmental impact of their decisions and promoting eco-friendly alternatives.
  11. Lifelong Learning: The field of architecture is ever-evolving, with new technologies, materials, and design philosophies emerging regularly. A commitment to ongoing education and professional development is essential.

In essence, a good architect synthesizes a blend of art and science, imagination and practicality, vision and execution. Their work stands as a testament to both their personal creativity and the broader cultural, social, and environmental contexts in which they operate.

What are the weaknesses of an architect?

Like professionals in any field, architects may exhibit certain weaknesses or face challenges inherent to their profession. While these weaknesses vary from individual to individual, some common ones include:

  1. Overemphasis on Aesthetics: Some architects might prioritize aesthetics over functionality, leading to designs that look impressive but aren’t practical or comfortable for users.
  2. Reluctance to Adapt: While tradition and foundational knowledge are important, an unwillingness to embrace new technologies, methods, or design philosophies can hinder an architect’s growth and the efficacy of their designs.
  3. Overconfidence: Some architects might be too confident in their visions, making them resistant to feedback or alternative suggestions. This can lead to missed opportunities for improvement.
  4. Perfectionism: While attention to detail is crucial, excessive perfectionism can slow down the design process, causing delays and sometimes increased costs.
  5. Underestimating Budgets: Misjudging the costs associated with a design can lead to budget overruns and strained relationships with clients.
  6. Poor Communication: Inadequate communication skills can lead to misunderstandings with clients, contractors, or other stakeholders, potentially jeopardizing a project’s success.
  7. Neglecting the Business Aspect: Focusing solely on the design aspect and neglecting business operations, client relations, or marketing can hinder an architect’s success in a competitive market.
  8. Limited Hands-on Experience: An architect who is more accustomed to theoretical work might lack hands-on experience with actual building processes, leading to designs that might be challenging or impractical to construct.
  9. Failure to Prioritize Sustainability: In the modern age, sustainability is paramount. Overlooking green practices and sustainable solutions can lead to designs that are outdated or harmful to the environment.
  10. Emotional Attachment: Being too emotionally attached to a particular design or concept can make an architect resistant to necessary changes or adaptations.
  11. Burnout: The architectural profession often demands long hours and high levels of stress, especially during critical phases of projects. Without proper work-life balance, burnout can compromise an architect’s well-being and creativity.

It’s essential to note that these weaknesses are not universal, and many architects work diligently to address and overcome these challenges. Continuous professional development, feedback, mentorship, and self-awareness can help mitigate these potential weaknesses.

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