The difference between a good and best design is intangible

I mean it quite literally. With the intangible I mean the feeling we get at looking at beautiful objects and works of art and we get a sensation that there is something more about it, that there lays something more behind it, or that objects make us feel something. This is what defines a great design. What differs, historically, good from the great artists is the ability to create this sensations and to show them clearly. Artists normally try to display their feelings of love, suffering, longing, or similar. Architects, on the other hand, have for the obvious reasons use other objectives.

Why is intangible the difference between good and best design, well, I don’t have a good answer for that. But we can assume that great design is composed of two elements: a grand idea behind it and a physical form, which supports the idea the best. Bland ideas give mediocre works and bad designs can spoil even a magnificent idea. Both aspects must be present and good thought of. The idea is the substance of the experience of the intangible, while a good form is what makes us notice it.

Here are both components: On the left side is an idea, which is supported by a design


Falling water house by Frank Lloyd Wright. An idea of lightness, flowing, combining inner and outer space, incorporated in a very simple form of overlapping rectangle bodies.

I would like to discuss how do students approach design process differently as professionals, and often fail to create this sensation. Being aware of this fallacy could be good for them to improve their work on the long run. The architecture students  get too focused on the form of the buildings, while professionals try to pursue to find and embed a message, a theme, a central topic to their design. In general are the two biggest fallacies in which fall architecture students the following:

  • Get stuck in the form
  • Get stuck in the vision, unable to transform it into a form..

The first case: In my experience students get fascinated by forms at the beginning so much that they get stuck afterwards. Their design cannot progress, as the original form is too limiting. They cannot see beyond their own design, not exploring enough other possibilities. It is difficult to escape this trap, as is it is hard from beginning to be critical about your work. One of the major postulates of architecture is that everything was already tried and it is hard to find something new. Many students don’t realize that simply because they have not seen enough case studies yet. The only way to escape this trap is to learn about self criticism and to ask the questions “why” and “what are the other option”.

Students fail in this transition from the original sketch to the final form.

Other students develop a good vision with a lot of potential for future exploration, but they cannot develop it into good designs. They get stuck in a grand plan, but no actual implementation of it into the design. Often they are just scared that any pursuit of form will simply spoil the grand idea. They have to be bolder and try all the options. Sometimes the enthusiasm fails after they see that their first design attempt doesn’t fit their original idea. Their goal should be only one: pursue different forms and ask yourself which one supports your idea the best.

Students develop an idea, but fail to see that different forms can support the same concept. The one which supports the original idea the best, can be then evolved into the final design.

To sum up: Good design should depend on just form.It will remain in the realm of good and and nothing more. Great design must have an idea, a thought, an objective behind it. Form is here only in the function of supporting the main idea. It is important to develop skills in both fields: in creating ideas and in developing designs. I will write more on about that in the future.

Some tips: Explore so many forms as you can. Try to be critical to your work and to your colleagues’ work. Review each other’s works. More than one form can support an idea, try to find the one which suits the best.

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