Many students, as well as many architects, struggle with the ability to regularly originate and develop architectural concept ideas. This can be because of deadline pressure, writer’s block, a lack of creative inspiration, or simply because many students’ architectural schools, especially in the first several years, don’t teach or emphasize their significance.

The best conceptual methods should always strive to give the backbone and foundation to a new project and constitute part of the starting process as much as your site analysis should. We explore this in “How to design an architecture concept” here.

There are numerous ways to generate ideas, and by using the procedures outlined in the articles above and the kit of design materials below, they can be produced from just about anything:

  • the influences of one’s own experiences
  • Emotions
  • Perceptions
  • Research
  • Analysis

Here, we offer a list of 20 concept concepts that can serve as a jumping-off point for your conceptual development and as a compass as your project progresses.

Typography

The typography of your site can be used to produce a variety of conceptual ideas, such as how the building utilizes its surroundings (views/features), the environment it provides (shelter/exposure), and its structural approach (cantilevering/underground).

For instance, a flat site may want to address its exposure and how the building interacts with its north, east, south, and west-facing aspects, but a steep site may require a strong structural plan from the outset.

Vernacular

Vernacular buildings must fit into their surroundings, and if your site has a moderate to strong vernacular, you can make use of this throughout the conceptual development stage based on the data from your site analysis.

For instance, a strongly pitched roof typology can inspire research into ways to modify and advance the form. One straightforward sketch, such as The Dune House by Norwegian architects Jarmund/Vigsnaes, effectively conveys their idea and shows how it is anchored in the location.

Glenn Murcutt, an Australian architect, is another excellent example of a designer who is heavily influenced by the environment in which his work is located. El Croquis’ book gives a thorough overview of his endeavors and techniques of operation.

Historic

Many different paths can be used and explored by using historical research on your property and its surroundings. Every location has a past and frequently a tale to tell that could inspire an exploration into how to update outdated building methods or how a new housing development should be master-planned based on its town’s original blueprint.

Your conceptual approach will be significantly strengthened if you connect with and draw on earlier inspirations and techniques.

Personal Qualities

In general, when we talk about physical features, we’re talking about the site’s elements, such as water features, trees, flora, rock formations, man-made structures, etc.

Consider the “tree House” project by 6a’s architects, which draws inspiration and design cues from the natural elements of the site (in this case, a tree), or Carmody Groake Burgh Island House and Adalberto Libera’s Casa Malaparte, which both rely on the coastal cliffs of their respective locations to support themselves.

Volume & Form

Start with a straightforward form and volume study so you may experiment with and learn how to work with positive and negative space. The Special verbs series is a fantastic set of books that covers this exact concept.

It’s important to note, however, that this strategy should be combined with at least one additional one in order to properly build and ground a significant architectural concept.

Views

Making use of the site’s vistas can assist in defining and shaping your building’s levels of relevance and priority. Areas that are mostly used for utility should be set apart because key spaces will wish to take benefit of them. In the same way, if your site lacks views, you will need to add views and begin developing a concept based on internal views.

However, when there are views, you might also want to draw site lines across your site to form a lattice-like design that could lead to the grid notion outlined below or just additional investigation.

Additionally, you might base your design on the vistas and the ways in which your building opens up to them.

Private and Public

You should be able to rapidly determine the locations of the public and private parts through your site research. Depending on the type of building and the context, defining this idea early on can be a wonderful project driver.

For instance, in an urban setting, private rooms might need to offer total detachment from their surroundings in order to create their own microenvironment. Even though they may be separated from the public areas in a rural setting, the private spaces may nonetheless seem strongly connected to their surroundings.

The OMA Maggie Center in Glasgow is a prime illustration of this.

Accommodation

To build and visualize the spaces that should be connected, separated, or next to one another, the design brief’s stipulated accommodations can be mapped out to depict distinct squares and rectangles to the required floor areas.

As a result, a spatial concept may be created, with the places ordered according to their usage, necessity, orientation, views, shelter, served and servant, public and private, etc.

Use

The arrangement of your building’s rooms and spaces is solely based on its category and how the user will interact with that area when they arrive and travel through it, in a manner that is quite similar to the above.

For instance, supermarkets exclusively follow this method, always placing fresh produce in the front of the store. This is a deliberate choice to give your brain the sense that you’re entering a natural and fresh environment—a lovely sanctuary aside from the rest of your working day—which then initiates your journey through the remainder of the store.

The same is true for art galleries and museums, where visitors are purposefully led through the structure and exhibition areas.

Mass

By taking the planned areas you may have generated for an accommodation study and extruding them into 3D shapes for arrangement, you can use massing to form a conceptual approach.

Bjarke Ingels’ LEGO House is a straightforward illustration of this.

Movement & Journey

This masterplan proposal by Swedish architect Jagnefalt Milton for the Norwegian town of Åndalsnes is a great illustration of how to use mobility and journey to develop a concept.

Current, former, and abandoned train tracks were employed as a foundation for this sustainable response through site analysis, and the sizes and weight restrictions of the tracks also helped design the living pods and coaches.

Addition and Subtraction

For this technique, you must start with a strong volume that not only meets the design brief’s specifications but also fits the site without difficulty. Then, portions of this mass are removed and sculpted in accordance with site-specific considerations, design brief specifications, accommodation placements, etc.

By employing their characteristics in terms of their type, size, and restrictions, the materials you suggest can be used to serve as the basis of a design concept.

A two-story building, for instance, might have a stone or masonry foundation, with the second level being made of a lighter material, like wood. Since it would not be possible to arrange the objects in the opposite direction, the conceptual strategy calls for a light object to sit on top of a heavy one.

Similar to this, the material selections can parody your site’s regional slang or the original construction methods. You can look into how these can be updated and enhanced. The work of RCR Arquitectes serves as a good illustration of how to root a project and connect it to its environment by using real, time-tested materials.

Grid

Site grids are extremely versatile in their application since they may be taken from and generated from nearly anything. Site grids are used to offer strategic and appropriate sections and separations on what otherwise may be an entirely blank canvas.

It can be useful to locate regions of exposure or desire by mapping views that pass through or overlook the site. Alternately, mapping and incorporating the local street typologies into your site might once again segment it and provide you with a solid perspective on the surrounding area.

Religion & Society

This is primarily derived from the design brief as well as the intended purpose and occupancy of the structure. Consider a monastery where the monks who live there and use the structure adhere to highly stringent rules and daily rituals. They have very few possessions and have relatively simple lives, which immediately begins to define and map out the suggested areas.

It makes sense to carefully consider your design brief and split it down into its component elements.

Shelter & Defense

This works especially well in exposed places since the idea plays with open and closed spaces to generate varied surroundings and experiences, according to your site study. The way your building interacts with light, shadow, wind, rain, and other weather patterns can be managed to achieve this.

This technique could also work with a public and private design concept, where the necessary divisions are formed by the aspects of safety and shelter.

Atmosphere

This is something that Peter Zumphor excels at and discusses in both of the books we’ve included, Atmospheres and Thinking Architecture.

Playing with atmosphere involves utilizing and modifying light, shadow, and space to give building occupants an emotional and sensory experience as they walk through and occupy its spaces.

A site’s orientation and seasonal variations should receive special consideration, and the light and weather patterns should be mapped to determine how they move through and over the building.

Users

Architecture is made for and around people, so why shouldn’t it be used to develop a concept? To borrow once more from the design brief and the project’s objectives. For instance, a preschool must include facilities for both small children and adults. This frequently leads to single-story zone planning with close ties to nature.

Light

Natural light, in particular, can only be employed once you have (again) completed your site research. Light may be used in a variety of ways to shape, form, and define spaces. Your site’s dimensions, position, and shape will determine how conceptually helpful it is.

For instance, a small rectangular site may have trouble letting light into its center. As a result, courtyard areas may be a possibility. Or the massing of your building might need to accommodate or work around a certain time of day when the light casts a particular beam or shadow.

Orientation

The orientation, as was previously mentioned in your site analysis, is a crucial consideration in every architecture project. Using it to help define the conceptual development of a design project can give you important information about where to site your building and how to accommodate people inside of it.

Key information on how the building can be utilized and set up will be provided by mapping out how the light enters and influences the location. In the northern hemisphere, where the sun rises and sets from east to west, a building’s utilitarian spaces can be placed on its northern side or in the center, where natural direct light is less vital.

Additionally, this will help with the placement of openings and outside areas. The program’s structure and organization will be helped by the orientation.

Organization and Technology

The conceptual development of your proposal can be greatly influenced by knowing how you want to construct it from the outset. This can range from a study of regionally specific construction processes to the analysis of emerging technologies and procedures that are still in the very early phases of development.

The design of a suspended swimming pool by London-based architects HAL, suitably titled “sky pool,” calls for a transparent structure-free concept. Similarly, structural aspects like a large cantilever or span can also inspire. The enchantment of the proposal lies in how it is suspended; the proposal itself is just a rectangle of glass.

If you are interested in more articles like this, here’s one about what differentiates an architecture firm from an interior design firm.