How To Design A Building

How To Design A Building 1320 720 Garrett DeLano


Shorelake Residence graphic

One of the biggest red flags we see, and something we often have to course correct for our clients is when they are meeting with us for the very first time and they show us an exterior image of a house or a building they like, and they want to use it as a starting point for their own project. In this blog, I will tell you why that is a terrible way to start, but also how to design a building, the right way!

floor plan sketches

Start With a BIG Idea

Great building designs do not start with an image of a project you want to emulate, and they certainly do not start with a Pinterest board. Designing a building is about a central concept, or a thought about how you want a space to feel, what is its purpose, and who will it serve. With a concept as the foundation, the organic growth of a design then happens with the floor plan first, the arrangement of the programmatic spaces, the circulation of people, and taking advantage of a particular site.

Starting with an exterior image of a building as the starting point is counterintuitive, and is backward from the proper way to design. You may feel like the picture you have is the ultimate destination and you want to work backward right? But what you may discover is that when you know how to design a building the right way, from the inside out, you may arrive at a final design that is even better than what you had in mind. The exterior of a building should be informed by the floor plan, not the other way around.  You use the interior of a building far more than the outside, therefore the natural flow of spaces and the function of the program should be the top priority.

Design to Your Site

Another reason to work with the plan first is because each site and location is different. Architects will design a building with the main entry facing south differently than they will one that is facing north. Weather, sunlight, views, vehicular traffic, and orientation play a major role in how we execute a building. Ignoring the realities of a site is not thorough design practice, and can lead to a building that is not as functional.

how to design

Let’s Parti

Finally, to simplify how to design a building, your architect should be able to explain the project in a very simple diagram(s) called a “parti diagram.”  A parti diagram is a simple drawing that helps explain the big idea of a building, whether in section or in plan. It is similar to a doctor explaining the complex workings of the human body in laymen’s terms that a you can understand. If your architect cannot boil down the building into a few key elements, it is possible that there is a lack of simplicity that reinforces a great design. The best buildings are often designed with a fair amount of simplicity, but achieve their refinement from materiality and structural detail, not complexity of forms.  Check out this article for a more in depth explanation:

Our hope as architects is to educate both the design industry, as well as potential clients. Learning how to design a building is a skill that is never truly perfected. However, if we all understood where to begin, the world would have a better built environment for everyone.

Shown Below, Vintage Office Condos