Ten rules of great architectural design

An exploration of how design connects us to people, places and ideas.

Great design  has to be experienced.  It is not unusual for someone to be unable to explain why a particular building appeals to them, other than to say it just feels right.  This is a hallmark of great design.   I have looked at a lot of great buildings, visited many and I’ve even built a few.  From that experience these are my ten infallible rules of great architectural design.

1. Great Architecture must have a message.  Too often in the past the message was a stoic celebration of  solid community values.  Architecture has grown with the times and today the message is more often, sup wat ru doin? 

2. Buildings should try as much as possible not to  look like buildings.   A design that mimics  a crushed Coke can be as functional and appealing as one that looks like a Town hall from your youth.  Your imagination  should not be fetered as almost any object that comes to hand can be used to model a building.  Symmetry is the ultimate evil.

3. Angularity is important. Building should have as many jutty bits as possibe. I love the sense of conflict from designs that look like two cats fighting in a bag. With the advent of computer aided design it is now possible to draw a tangent from virtually any line.  The traditionalists amongst us may note that this was not popular with the ancients, but then, most of them are dead now.

4. Materials maketh the man. Great materials are critical to great design but must be  used in context. Buildings made of timber  for example, should look like a stack of old pallets.   Wherever possible the materials should be allowed to weather or they should be artificially distressed. The architect should take care to reject any material that is insufficiently unsuitable for the purpose. Use glass freely, particularly in areas where it has not been previously popular like road making.

Modern Architecture; the drunken starlet.Buh5. A sense of balance is critical. This does not mean that a building needs to incorporate any columns or other visible means of support. Many of my  favorite contemporary designs look like they are going to fall over at any moment. I call this drunken starlet architecture.


6. Repurposing. It is essential that we recycle existing building stock with our growing populations. This is the process known as repurposing. This is not to be mistaken with porpoising, which is the act of swimming with your bottom in the air,  as practised by synchronized swimmers.  It is critical however that the  building is not used for a purpose to which it was previously put. To this end a church should become a gymnasium and a jailhouse should become a hotel.

7. Great design has attitude. The designer should dress with panache. Panache is actually a colour  that many of you may know as Black. The complete palette runs from the subtle semi black to the attention grabbing jet black.

Modern Architectural folly8. Perception is subjective,  Also known as the client doesn’t know what she is talking about rule.  The designer needs to be  firm in his decision-making and august in his approach.  If left to the client many  buildings would never have enormous atriums, superfluous impediments and other elements critical for  modernist architectural folly.

9. Great design can often hide its ultimate purpose.  An architect may not even understand his own design  for many years. His perception is a product of his  fallible human nature.  Contemplation and the practice of introspection will be helpful here.

10. Theoretical design is the best design. Too often I see young designers discouraged by such worldly constraints as carparking and bathrooms. Many of the worlds finest buildings exist only on paper.  The tawdry business of having to actually construct them in steel  and concrete  would detract from intrinsic value.

Finally I would encourage you all to design at every turn. Sketch all those ideas and hone your art; your Lennon and McCartney wrote Let it be, but they are also responsible for Yellow Submarine.


Category(s): By Marcus, Grand designs, opinion piece
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  • http://www.architangent.com Brinn Miracle

    The first few caught me off-guard, but by #5 I was on board ;). That one in particular reminds me of “Death of Deconstructivism” http://bit.ly/lEoNog

    • marcusttaylor

      A truly terrible tale Brinn, they broke down the all important theoretical design/real world interface!!

  • http://uinspireu.com/ ArmstrongCeilings

    So what’s #11? The dangler that didn’t make the top 10. Do you think it’s imperative that architects get-to-know the occupants of a space they are designing? Go inside the minds of those who will live with the design? — Jess @ Armstrong

    • marcusttaylor

      Jess Number 11 was Visit site as little as possible, and it is aimed at the more ADHD designers with ants in their pants!