17 Steps To Help Improve Your Architecture Design Skills

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In this post we present 17 steps to help improve your architectural design process and concept development that can be implemented straightway. 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.

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 fist Site Analysis Visit

We can’t emphasise 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… 

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 emphasises 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 favourite 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 organise 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!

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.

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 favourite 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.

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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 favourite 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 favourite landscape architects, just as you would your favourite 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 dont be impatient, and make sure you leave enough time for it develop before it has to be presented 

13 Dont 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 favourite here for some inspiration

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 favourite periodical.

sign up to the newsletters for your favourite 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 Dont 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 dont 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.

Summary

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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