What’s a good Concept?

What is a concept?
Last Saturday, I was invited to talk to our graduating students on How to Sell their Design through a Concept. This blog post is somewhat a gist of that without the thesis challenge. Now that you know what’s the difference between a Concept and a Design Philosophy, let’s discuss the following:
  • makings of a good concept
  • where it comes from
  • how to use it

When do concepts come into play? 

Concept Development
It can come anytime within the iterative process of design, but essentially, it can start at the sweet spot between the Problem definition and the Design Development. Concept development is easier when you’ve already done your research, understanding the problem and you’re already starting to form ideas toward your architectural solution. Your concept could now be a testing theory of sorts to try out a certain way of solving an architectural problem.

The makings of a good concept.

  1. First that it’s something easy to understand. A concept is something that would help your idea become communicable in words and images. This is why your concept sheet shouldn’t be all text. Your evolution of form should clearly demonstrate the growth of your idea from text to forms. It should be obvious, not literal.
  2. It’s consistent throughout the design. From the design of your boards, to your 3-dimensional drawings, the idea should be clear. A concept should act as a common denominator or unifying element.
  3. It creates a clear connection between the design problem and the design solution. When I say that my concept is: Architecture as a teacher. It’s easily identifiable that my problem could be a school, and that the architecture’s soul talks about the structure itself as a tool for learning.

Where could I get ideas for a concept?

Where can a concept come from?

Form-based keywords is your most basic source of a concept. Your formative years in architecture school might have started with inspirations of a bird, a butterfly or a lego block. Next level would be abstracting these forms into phrases that help them become easier to translate like: Spirit of flight of Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center.
Issue-based concepts are inspired by historical events or relevant concerns of the day. Michael Arad’s 9/11 Memorial at NYC is a good example with the concept of absence.
Context-based concepts are taken from the milieu of the site. May it be the materials available, the historical context of the site or its immediate surroundings.
Theory-based concepts are from big ideas in the theory spectrum. From the Modernist Era, we can pull a Polemical Theory: Form Follows Function by Louis Sullivan. One good example is Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye where the authorship of the architect is imposed on the lives of its residents.
Tweaked theories are those that challenge the established theories out there. Singapore’s The Interlace by Ole Scheeren uses Bernard Tshcumi’s Form follows fiction, where the different programs are intertwined together with their various stories.

How to use a concept

  1. It can start the narrative of your design process/ journey, giving you a direction
  2. It can be a testing theory
  3. It’s your common denominator or unifying element of the design
  4. It visually delivers an informed set of ideas
  5. It helps make your design memorable
Hopefully I’ve walked you through important points to help you with your Conceptual Development. I’m sorry I couldn’t put photos of the examples. You can search their back stories online. I’d love for you to dig through them 😃
Any questions?

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