Design Process - What Goes on in the Mind of an Architect

Architectural design does not begin until there is a reason or purpose for doing it and a decision as to what the purpose of the design will be. Architecture and sculpture are similar in some ways, but this is what makes architecture different from sculpture. The sculptor Constantin Brancusi may have said it best: "Architecture is inhabited sculpture".  Architecture is sculpture that people will use and live in.

Once the reason to create architecture has been decided upon and to what purpose the architecture will be put, I begin a process of swirling ideas around in my mind. I consider the many things that contribute to a determinant of form - I think of lessons learned from other buildings that I have become aware of, either physically or virtually. Not all the thoughts I bring to bear are architectural. I have partners in other disciplines like communications and programming who share with me ideas that I can use in architecture as the basis for design.

For me, design solutions are not created so much as they are discovered - they're out there, traveling through space, like electromagnetic waves, invisible but nevertheless there anyway. But they need to be received & brought to bear in resolving the design issues at hand.

I don't try to think up an answer - I let it come to me instead.  It's like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the tornado is swirling around in the background outside the window and Dorothy gets knocked unconscious and wakes up in a dream.  She sits up, looks out the window and finds herself inside the tornado with the wind whizzing by and various people in her life appearing briefly and then moving along.

For me, design is like going over to that window and jumping out. I'm swept up by the wind of ideas swirling all around me and I start to grab some of them to see what's there. It's a matter of exploring, keeping an open mind and letting solutions come to me. Of course, If I followed this strategy without reservation, I would never get anything done. At some point, I must stop and take a thought or collection of thoughts that have arrived or been found and then do something with them - a synthesizing process.


I begin a process of drawing and thinking - a connection between mind and hand.  It probably wouldn't be very meaningful to anyone viewing it, but to me the drawing shown here, a top view, triggers a vision of a full-blown 3D & 4D rendition of the object that it is (a bronze and glass handrail on the side of a ramp). 

I don't let myself get too attached to any one idea.  I've seen too many architects who arrive at a solution that is 90% of the way to a successful design and then hold onto that 90% at the expense of resolving the remaining 10%.  I am perfectly willing to set aside the entire 90% and then focus on making the remaining 10% really good.  Because what often happens is that the best 10% solution will lead to modifications of the sacred 90%, that make the whole thing even better!

By utilizing this process, I am able to imagine architectural ideas and solutions.  There is an important distinction between imagining things and visualizing them.  Imagination is the process of coming up with design ideas or solutions.  Visualization is the process of picturing them in your mind.  Imagining architecture is the realm of the Architect, but visualizing architecture is for everyone.  It's the architect's job to create drawings, descriptions, and models to help people visualize what he or she has imagined.

I love it when clients say to me:  "What a great idea!  How on earth did you come up with it?"

I didn't.  It found me.  I'm like a lightning rod.

Take advantage of your ability to visualize.  Work with an imaginative architect.