Concept Design

Maybe it’s because I come from a technical background rather than an artistic one, but to me the descriptions of conceptual design I read about in various architectural journals don’t quite seem to fit the needs of many domestic projects.

I’ve read lots of creative talk about how ‘form’ and ‘flow’ should be at the forefront of any concept design, and that ideas should explore the ‘philosophy of architectural design’. Call me naïve, but I’ve never had a call from a client wanting their Kitchen to have philosophy at the forefront of any design ideas. I do agree that form and flow are important factors in the design process, but it’s how you define those terms that make or break the conceptual phase of most jobs.

My preferred approach for the priorities of a concept design are:

·         Functionality

·         Cost

·         Buildability

·         Likelihood of approval

Within each of those key areas are my sub-categories.


This is a straightforward translation of the Client’s brief. Are they getting what they want from the design? If not, abandon the design!

Within functionality comes flow, but in a practical sense. i.e. Has the design for the new kitchen considered the realities of prepping, cooking and washing up within the area? Are there any awkward nooks around the house? Unnecessary corridors? Does the layout give a practical solution to the Client’s needs?


Controlling costs from an early stage in the project is one of the most important factors most Client’s talk to me about. Material costs can fluctuate to the point where pricing a build in the early stages of design is near impossible, but that doesn’t mean the design can’t keep some control over the final spend.

I like to try and offer Client’s a couple of options within the concept stage, which explore budget and slightly more-extravagant designs. Providing there is guidance on where money is being spent, the Clients can then make a well informed decision on whether to proceed, or look at alternatives.


Having worked in a few RIBA practices, I’ve seen some architectural concepts that baffle me. The laws of physics don’t seem to apply to some Architect’s concept designs I’ve seen, which in my opinion is why Architectural Technologists came to be. Our job in the early days was to translate the concept design into a set of working drawings. It soon became clear, if Technologists had control of the design at concept stage, we would factor in buildability at an early stage, making the rest of the process much smoother.

Back when I used to supervise a team of Designers in an RIBA practice, I would teach them that the drawings we produce will form a set of instructions. These instructions explain how to build the Client’s project. That’s the product the Client is buying at the end of the day.

When producing a concept, a knowledge of the construction methods is essential. It doesn’t necessarily have to be shown on a concept design, but knowing how something will be built from day one is critical to the project’s success.

Likelihood of Approval

Be it Planning or Building Regulations, approvals are essential. Without them, the work simply doesn’t happen.

Usually within the first conversation about a project, the Clients will have ideas they want to explore. Having a knowledge of the local area, history, planning policies etc. is so important to setting the project off on the right foot.

Assessing the likelihood of approval within the concept stage saves masses of time, and makes for a much smoother application process. I also think it’s respectful to the area. Coming from the Peaks, I feel blessed to be surrounded by some of the finest buildings and countryside in the UK. Conserving and enhancing the aesthetic of any local area through well thought-out design is so important, not just to the Clients, but to the communities and generations to come.

In summary, most people have a rough idea what they want to do. It’s my job to help make that idea come to fruition. By prioritising these four key areas within my concept designs, I think the ‘Technologist Approach’ to concepts eliminates a lot of the non-essential artistic talk, and streamlines the design process.

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