What is a Design Concept?
A Design Concept is the major idea you want to present with your project. I’d like to think of it as your backbone in every solution you will think of when planning your design. When you’re answering all of the “why’s” in your design, the answer will always connect or boil down to your concept.
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Your design concept can be anything under the sun. It may be abstract or something tangible. Depending on how you’re going to communicate it through your plans, or your sketches or models, it will be better if the concept is seen by the viewer even without your explanation. As an architect, you will not be there to explain your buildings, anyway.
It doesn’t have to be grand, but I personally think it has to be significant. Will the project provide the same solutions or will you have the same space planning even if the concept was changed? If so, then your design concept might not have played a role. The challenge here is for you to translate an idea and make it a reality through architecture.
Relationship of your Design Concept with your Design Philosophy
A Design Philosophy is what you believe in, as an architect. What you believe in, your perspective on how things should be architecturally speaking, will influence how you design normally thus affecting your concept.
This can be built based on your experience or learnings. For example, my design philosophy is “Architecture serves as documents of time.” I have learned and believed in this after learning from History of Architecture, that the architecture reflects what’s going on from era to era. Although replicating is a thing and you can most definitely copy designs from the past, I personally believe that what we build now should reflect how we can and what we have now for the future generations to come.
You may have heard of “Form Follows Function” by Louis H. Sullivan which I also use. You can read more of these design philosophies here.
Where to Get Inspirations for your Design Concept
Since a design concept can be anything under the sun, it can be paralyzing to choose one. What I normally do is I look at the major problem I want to solve, and try to think of a unique solution for it. The unique solution will serve as the umbrella for the other smaller solutions I’d want to include.
Personally, I think it helps to compare what you want to do to what’s already been done. By researching studies of both architecture and non-architecture-related topics, you may be able to pick-up something. You don’t copy what’s been done, but instead think of how to make it better. If you’re not thinking of how to make it better, then maybe think what could be some innovations out there that will bring about a major change that will help solve the problem.
Sometimes, you may be able to think of a concept outright after hearing the design problem, but other times, you might need to wind down to get your creative juices flowing. Read, relax, observe. These three things might help you be able to think of a concept and not burn yourself out.
How to Apply Your Design Concept with your Plans
This might be challenging depending on your concept but translating your idea to physical plans and models is vital. It’s what makes it significant. Of course, in the real world, you’re not gonna be asked of the concept in every project so sometimes you might choose not to “have one”, but if you’re a student, this may be how your concept will be measured.
I think concepts such as “Modularity” are easier to translate. Sometimes, you might not even have a word for it, just a sketch. Depending on where you’re from or what you’re used to (as different schools have different cultures), applying your design concept to plans involves consideration of the physical things or environment, the things you learn in Theory of Architecture.
Read: What is Architecture
Examples of a Design Concept
Architectural Digest presents 19 awarded designs talking about their design concepts. In reading it, you’ll find something physical such as “Cocoon” by Manasaram Architects, a narrative such as “Seeking Roots with the Ghosts” by Cheng Chieh Li, or an expression such as Out of the Box by Nudes.
Design concepts can be a term, a saying, a thing, a name of a process, a song, a material, anything you can really think of. As long as it can provide the backbone of your design and solutions, it can fit as a concept.
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