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Concept Designs

A concept is an idea, a theory or notion, but in architecture we could also describe a concept as ‘an approach’ to the design. When we think of an architectural concept, we think of an abstract idea, one that is unchanging throughout the design process. Concepts to the designers are a means of translating the non-physical design problem into the physical building product.

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Approaches to the design

There are several areas the designer may focus on number of aspects and are weaved into one another, as the project develops. The approaches can be categorised as:

  • Functional

    A functional project have more necessity for the functional elements rather than the aesthetic appearance of the building? There are certainly some types of buildings that we would make function high up on our priority list. For example, a factory will have quite particular functional requirements, or if designing a hospital we would want to ensure that the building can be used effectively above anything else.It should not be assumed that aesthetics does not take affair place.

  • Material

    Perhaps we select a material approach based on our site context, which suggests a historical use of a particular material, which we want to use in a more innovative way. By selecting local materials, it will give the local visitors a sense of comfort and familiarity, whilst also giving a nod to the natural surroundings and environmental benefits of sourcing locally.

  • Contextual

    A contextual approach to our concept will look at the context of the site and surroundings, the historical features of the area, the people that occupy the area. Every project should have an element of a contextual approach, as every design should consider its context, site and surroundings. Sometimes a contextual approach to a design does not always mean it will sit harmoniously in its surroundings. The Designer may choose to turn the buildings back on the context, or perhaps create a contrast between the old and the new.

  • Conceptual

    A conceptual approach to a design is looking at the idea of conceptual architecture. This suggests that every part of the project is about the concept. The sole focus of the design is about the idea, rather than a combination of approaches and processes.

  • Formal

    Although the design may not be classical in its style, it may be that the formal rules of proportions, scale, the golden section and so on are translated into a contemporary building.

  • Collaborative

    Most projects can be considered to be collaborative. Whether there is a large design team working on the different aspects of the building, there is also the client, stakeholders, engineers, surveyors, contractors and many more people involved in the design. However, the end user of the building is one of the important parts of the puzzle that often is not directly involved in the design process.


    Some architects are starting to take the approach that the end user is the expert in the requirements of the building, and engaging in a collaborative exercise that sees the end user contributing to the design process. This is particularly popular with projects that have a large community or social focus, where the skills and knowledge of the building users can be included in the development of the project. This approach is rarely possible in a student project, but worth considering as an approach to design.

  • Philosophical

    Another approach to architectural concepts is to consider your design philosophy. This is a set of values you use to inform your design. The values could be the life values of the designer, or could be a reflection of the design brief or context of the site, or indeed a combination of all three.