Architecture 101: Basic architectural concepts explained

Blakstad Design Consultants is honoured to engage with repeat clients. Some of our client relationships go back decades. When you work regularly with someone you tend to develop your own special shorthand to communicate ideas and feelings. But for others, coming into the world of architecture for the first time can seem daunting. Our most important work principle is to make sure our clients feel comfortable and heard every step of the way. So, here’s a little primer to some of the more common phrases, words and concepts in architecture – in layman’s terms.

The four phases

It makes sense to break down a complex project into stages in any field but especially in architecture where the mixture of creativity, engineering, geography and governmental whimsy has the potential to cause chaos. Having an understanding of what happens in each stage will help you to keep a grip on the project and smooth communications between the various professionals involved in building your house.

Pre-design and concept

Everything starts with a conversation. An architect will get an understanding of what the client is aiming to achieve. Learning about the client’s lifestyle, personalities, goals and passions will help inform a comprehensive design made for the individual. This understanding coupled with information about plot and structure and how the spaces will be used now and in the future is all collated into a file along with any specific requests or unique features. During this stage, a survey of the land will be completed, detailed measurements will be noted, the trajectory of the sun will be studied along with local bylaws and building rules. Early sketches of the project will be delivered and discussed in detail.

Schematic design

The sketches and knowledge gathered from phase one will start to take shape during the schematic design process. The architect will begin to present visualisation tools such as images, models, sketches and examples of other projects to start creating the shapes and spaces that will end up being a new home. At the end of this phase, a design direction will be agreed upon and approved.

Design development

Taking all the information from phases one and two plus the agreed design direction, the architect will begin to formalise all aspects of the project and prepare the first set of drawings to present to contractors for costing. From here the project scope and budget are defined, adjustments and refinements are made to the design and the sourcing of materials begins. By the end of this phase, the project will have encountered structural engineers, plumbers, electricians as well as engaged with the local authorities and other experts.

Construction documents and permits

Ibiza has a peculiar and labyrinthine approval process so in reality, this phase starts much earlier than in other places. Blakstad Design Consultants has a team of designers who are practised in the art of local government. Like a dog with a bone, they will work their way through any obstacle or recalcitrant council paper-pusher until the required documents have been signed, sealed and delivered. At this point, the design is still open to changes and refinements but the end result should be a set of final construction drawings containing all the minute details the builder will need to start and complete construction. Project management may or may not come under your architect’s remit. It’s not unusual for the architect to take a step back at this stage and let the other professionals bring the design to life.

Scale

This is a common word thrown around all architectural practices. Scale refers to the size of an object in relation to something within its vicinity. It’s the relative size of the space or object as perceived by the viewer. A residential home is designed to a human scale, allowing for a feeling of comfort and belonging when interacting with the spaces. As a juxtaposition, monumental scale is defined to be impressive and awe-inspiring, such as in large public works or religious buildings.

Shape

This is the sum of surfaces and edges of an object. Shape is perceived through contour or silhouette rather than in details. Shape contains both solids and voids, exteriors and interiors and may be formed through an additive or a subtracted process. In brief, shape can be what you see and also the spaces between what you see.

Proportion

Easily mistaken for scale or size proportion is the relationship between one object and another as well as the whole building. There are many different systems to calculate ideal proportion yet for the client, the most important part of this concept is refining your sense of harmony.

Rhythm

Just like in music an architectural project will have repeating riffs. Like the chorus in your favourite song, a design will often include the repetition of shapes and elements. For example, uniform skylights, systematic use of niche shelving, window size – all of these components come together in a design rhythm.

Articulation

This is often called treatment and refers to the way edges, corners, windows, skylights and other elements meet up with surfaces.

Light

This is the most important tool in the architect’s toolbox. Without light, none of the concepts above can exist because it is light that allows us to see and feel form, shape, rhythm and scale. You can read a more in-depth study of the importance of light and shadow in this blog post.