How do you as an architect define 'concept?'


Ten years ago I made a youthfully impulsive naive decision...I accepted an offer to architecture school. Since then this odd term has been thrown around. For example a former boss asked my colleague and I to come up with a 'concept' for an interior. 

I said something like 'clumsy urbanism' which I thought had the potential to be interesting.

He shot that off as being too abstract and that he was looking for an concept.

My esteemed and highly respected GSD masters of architecture candidate colleague nonchalantly said 'technology' and he was all for it. 

I was thinking, to be honest, "what the hell just happened here?" Did everything I learned in school completely get thrown down the drain?

Of course there's the initial shock of your first job out of grad school when you realize your ambitions of creating meaningful discussions of architecture have been diluted by a huge dose of reality: client demands, budget, and building codes. But seriously it's like no one is even trying.

Anyway my understanding of concept is really all about abstract ideas, something that I feel has been misunderstood to mean things like theme, technique, and execution in the current working world. What is yours?

May 11, 14 4:55 pm

Architecture isn't conceptual art where the idea/concept is more important than the product itself.   I think in architecture you need proof - be it a physical model, drawing, 3d model etc.  It is easier to picture and relate something to a word like 'technology' than 'clumsy urbanism'.

May 11, 14 5:55 pm
C. Watts

Rember that just like no two architecture schools are alike, no two firms are alike either. Concept definition varies among architects just like personal style or even the definition of architecture itself. Some offices are more abstract and would probably dig clumsy urbanism while others won't take it as seriously for their own reasoning. Your goal may be to open your own office one day, then you can design your way.

May 11, 14 6:47 pm

Accesskb, architectural representation or "proof" is important to communicate your design but not at all what my question was addressing. I completely disagree that in architecture concept and idea is not as important as the product. Designing without idea robs architecture of depth and meaning. Aspiring architects may just as well save money by enrolling in a community college or online certification course because a monkey-see-monkey-do education is all they'll ever need. Really if we're going to reduce architecture to something as banal and shallow as the product then we've been wasting a lot of time, money and intellectual investment into this profession.

May 11, 14 6:55 pm

Yes, C.Watts you are right. Which is why I'm curious what "concept" means to others

May 11, 14 6:57 pm

Sure architectural concept is very important in this profession.  But not if all you're doing is throwing out abstract words and don't have anything to show.  Reminds of classmates in school who could use big words and talk for hours about a concept, but then wondered why they're borderline failing because they just can't produce work to back up their concept.

May 11, 14 7:34 pm
boy in a well

must we abuse the word concept so?

just insert 'theme' or 'vibe' or 'feeling' or maybe 'pitch' or 'angle' when your colleagues are talking.

unless you are actually talking about concepts, which is highly unlikely.

now go read some Panofsky.

or snapchat or something

May 12, 14 1:57 am

To me concept means guide.  The concept is the initial idea that guides the process.  Without a concept architecture is basically babbling.  The concept in architecture is similar to the concept of a book.  It does not dictate the final manifestation or the combination of words but instead sets up a sort of theme and essence that guides the author and gives the author some structure to work with/from.   A concept is a self imposed constraint.   In a good way.  A concept to architecture is also similar to a hypothesis in science.  Its a question and a challenge.  The problem is that too often the designer gets married to the concept taking it too literally and allowing it to burden the success of the project.  A good designer will know when to adapt and change the concept as the process progresses.  A concept should be an ever changing thing.  It should be Malleable.  

May 12, 14 11:31 am

Design Concept = Primary Metaphor.

May 12, 14 12:11 pm

In school, concept is the bullshit you use to conceive/justify/present your design to a professor.

In practice, concept is the bullshit you use to conceive/justify/present your design to a client.

In a professional capacity, concept is the creative basis for the designed solution to the problem(s) defined in the program.

May 12, 14 3:03 pm

Miles w the win.

May 13, 14 8:35 am

Exhibit One (1983)

1. Conceptual sketch . . . beginnings

2. Parti

3. Schematics

4. Design development

5. Working drawings . . . Vacation

6. Construction

7. Built work

8. History . . . The final product

Oh how they pondered.

May 13, 14 9:16 am


I have heard legends but never seen this mythical beast.

May 13, 14 1:23 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

Concept is an abstraction to sale and guide a project or literally abstracted after the project is developed. Diagram. Index. I start with architecture and technical details first and if I can abstract a concept for whatever purposes I will, otherwise I stick with architecture.

May 13, 14 6:14 pm


I have heard legends but never seen this mythical beast.

Not surprising, the program is a notorious shape shifter and often invisible. A masterful architect can force it to become visible, although it is exceedingly difficult to make it assume a static form.

May 13, 14 8:53 pm
chatter of clouds

jla-x " A concept to architecture is also similar to a hypothesis in science."

i disagree :)

jla-x "To me concept means guide"

i don't disagree...or  don't disaccord (since its a subjective expression par "to me") :)

can i say a concept is like a kernel or a seed? 

amongst all those initial abstract tools different architects employ to come up with a tangible preliminary design,  what is not a concept? that is difficult to define, no? 

May 13, 14 9:47 pm

i think concept is defining the thinking level and creativity level of the designer that how he or she thinks and the design strategies and forms justify the concept as well

Sep 29, 16 11:23 am
Olaf Design Ninja_

concept: an abstract term for an idea that has yet to be thought out and put into practice.

Oct 14, 16 7:02 pm

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