Thinking like an Architect

You must be really amazed at how architects design. Designing from scratch may seem magical or mystique to you but all you really need is a sneak-peek into the mind of an architect to comprehend that designing concept and architecture primarily needs creativity. An easy walk-through may add some vision to your life.

Why and How

Why and how the house will be designed the way it is to be done is the first question that comes to the mind of Santa Barbara architect Barry Berkus. His beach house in Malibu is a perfect example of his designing concept.

Why the Design?

If you’re planning to build your own home, prioritise your purpose before planning to move ahead. The whole problem of where things are and how they relate to each other begins with patterns and diagrams based on the planning. A Padaro Lane Residence in Southern California built by architect Barry Berkus is a place of retreat for the family. With request from the client to build a house on the beach to bring the extended family home, he planned sea-facing kitchen and living room with an exotic view of the waves.  The private bedrooms which offer pleasant views of the sunrise and sunset are arranged around a common courtyard which hosts a fire-place. The kitchen is to the east of the house to let the morning sun in whereas the living room, situated to the west of the estate offers a beautiful view of the sunrise. He also added an infinity pool to the estate which pours over into the ocean. Whatever you wish to build or re-structure, it all starts with a rough bubble sketch which lets you check out the opportunities and then, later gains a more concrete form with addition of more details.

How to Design?

Once the planning is done, architects express ideas through sketching. The first sketches are often awful but they help to get the image. Ideas are the backbone of architecture design. Ideas can be generated from multiple sources through research work.   Creative sense plays the major role in generating and expanding ideas which can help you as a client to have the perfect house with your family. Architects sketch a lot to explore the ideas. Sketching is a continuous process which is then complimented by physical and digital 3-D models for better comprehension.  Thinking in 3-Dimensions is a critical skill practised by architects. Architecture is a process of imagination to be given form with more and more precision at every stage of planning.

What is to be considered?

Architectural elements are the unique details and component parts that, together, form the architectural style of houses, buildings and structures. Architects primarily address and focus on these simple elements of architecture which inspire them and their approach to designing. They are:

  • Space-Space is one of the most important elements considered by an architect while designing a building, because the sizes of rooms and hallways, the height of ceilings and the ease of entering and exiting each living area must be carefully matched with the function of the building. Architects choose dimensions of rooms to match the number of people who will occupy the space and the amount of activity that will occur in it. To make a building more interesting, architects experiment with aesthetic qualities of space by varying the width and height of rooms through which people will move. Architects also speak of space as the amount of land that will be occupied by a building on a site. The remaining area is called open space.
  • Need-How the space is to be used, whether for living or for commercial purpose or for a retreat is the basic element addressed by architects.
  • Materials-You need to think in advance about the material that is to be used in the construction process. The top five materials that come to the mind of an architect are wood, stone, concrete, metal and glass.
  • Colour-Colour is an integral element of our world, not just in the natural environment but also in the man-made architectural environment. Architects use colour in the choice of materials used to construct a building. These colour choices can be quite subtle, such as using a warm, yellow toned concrete instead of a cold grey base, or using a brownish brick instead of the traditional red. However, the colour effect of every element of a building’s construction must be considered, from the earthy colours of primary construction materials like wood, stone, brick and marble, to the expansive variety of colours available for paint, doors, windows, siding, and trim. Once chosen, the architectural drawings and sample boards convey to a contractor exactly what colour building materials to use when constructing a structure.
  • Textures-Texture is the look and feel of the surface of an object. Once we know how a material feels we can interpret a texture with our eyes and can tell visually how it might feel. An architect creates texture in building by certain choices of materials. Heavy, jagged stone may be used in a building to give it a rough texture, whereas delicate, carved woods can give a structure a light and airy look. Texture can also be suggested by the rich layering of shapes and forms on a building. Architects add visual interest to their buildings by using decorative building materials such as siding, stone and woodcarvings, or they can vary the pattern of concrete forms.
  • Fixtures- Detailing is essential in a contemporary home. Fine elements such as lighting fixtures that are distinct and look like works of fine art are kept simple and distinct. Hand railings and banisters that were once large handcrafted pieces of wood in past decades are replaced with innovative tension cables, glass, or industrial materials. Look to adding contemporary details that get noticed, yet don’t distract from your minimal interiors.
  • Form- Built-form goes a long way in increasing the aesthetic value of a building. Form refers to the shape or configuration of a building. Form and its opposite, space, are primary elements of architecture. The reciprocal relationship is essential, given the intention of architecture to provide internal sheltered space for human occupation. Bothform and space are given shape and scale in the design process. Both interior and exterior space of a building is defined with the help of form. For instance, consider the difference between an infill building that fits tightly within its’ site boundaries leaving no unoccupied space on the site, except perhaps a defined outdoor courtyard and a freestanding building located within a large expanse of parking. Without the aid of other space-defining forms such as trees, fences, level changes, and so forth, it is very difficult for a large space to be articulately defined by most singular forms. A number of aspects must be considered in order to design an architectural form, including shape, mass / size, scale, proportion, rhythm, articulation, texture, colour, and light.

Skill-set of an Architect

There are several key elements that serve as important architectural skills. These include:

  • Ability to deal with abstraction (even multiple layers of abstraction)
  • Inclination toward pattern-recognition
  • Holistic, synthesizing view of organizations and systems
  • Rule-based frameworks for defining solution boundaries.

This is important if you are an aspiring architect or you are in charge of creating an architectural design. These traits represent skills that lend themselves to an architectural way of thinking. However, there are no hard and fast rules to the extent that someone must possesses one or more of these qualities as architectural design tend to come more naturally.


Architecture designing involves a definite skill-set of creativity and the ability to deal with abstract ideas and pattern recognition. Once the purpose of constructing the house is sorted, architects begin with a rough bubble sketch which starts gaining a concrete form with addition of details.

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Matthew Okafor