The Architectural Idea: Building Concept Inspiration

The building concept  is the unifying idea that will drive many of the design decisions. It may be discovered as you peel back various layers of influence and will help to inform your design direction. The idea, through architectural design, seeks to address significant factors impacting the project in a poetic way.

As a student that is new to architecture, the process of formulating the concept for your building can be challenging. Consider the following avenues of thought when developing your idea:

One. Who is the building intended for? Examine the future users of the space. Who are they? Where are they from? What can you learn about their culture? What concepts, history, relationships, etc., are of greatest significance for them? What is a day in the life like for them? How can design address their needs or passions?

Two. What is the greater social context? Examine the community that surrounds the development. Investigate a variety of scales, from immediate neighbours, to municipal, federal and even global environments. How can design address social contexts of various scales? What commentary revolves around the social issues of the greater community?

Three. What are the most prominent features of the site? Is there a unique topography? Body of water? Vegetation or other wild life? Site analysis should be a part of any architectural project and all information collected should be taken into consideration, however perhaps there is one feature in particular that you’d like to celebrate as part of your idea. It could be a matter of bringing awareness to something endangered, or to the importance of a particular resource, to name a few examples.

Four. Consider how time might play a roll in your project. Investigate the history of the site, the community, and the future users. How has the site changed over time, not only over many years, but over the seasons of a single year and even within a single day? Consider how the architecture might interact with or celebrate the changes over time.

Five. Celebrate the idea using all of the senses. We have a tendency to get hung up on our dominant senses when exploring design solutions. For many people this might be sight, though this will most definitely vary. Consider how the architecture will impact the user’s experience through not only sight, but touch, smell, sound, and perhaps even taste. The Thermal Baths in Vals Switzerland by Peter Zumthor is a great case study to explore that engages all of the senses.

Six. Research is a great way to get the thought process really moving along. This could mean researching anything from history, to biomimicry, and everything in between. My personal favourite is precedent research, which I use throughout the project. Right from the beginning I use precedent research as a way of wrapping my mind around the building type and from there it is a great tool to inject varied inspiration.

If you weren’t sure where to begin before, hopefully these avenues for thought have got you thinking. If you have any brainstorming strategies you’d like to add, or further questions, comment below or email me at


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