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How to Create Architectural Design Solutions that Matter

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Finding the Root Problem to Maximize Your Design’s Benefits

Have you ever spent time and energy creating architectural design solutions for problems that did not really matter? Or have you ever experienced a design that presented a solution to a problem that was not that important? You see, sometimes designers can become overwhelmed, confused, or sidetracked when studying the complexities of a project’s requirements. Because of this, the core or root problem can become lost, and the resulting design misses its critical opportunity to really contribute by solving for a real and important problem.

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There are times when designers are lured by the process of creating a solution without giving much preliminary thought to whether the solution is really and critically needed. This is equivalent to spending a lot of time and effort following the wrong path, which leads to design solutions with little benefit or positive impact. Thus, it is imperative to really delve into the core problem of your project. By finding and solving for this core problem, you will be designing at the point of most leverage because when you solve for a root problem, the entire building system will strengthen. Conversely, if you only solve for a peripheral problem, then the building system will suffer because the root problem (which is the weakest point) will remain and prevent the rest of the building system from having its positive benefits realized.

Leverage Your Efforts with Preliminary Design Problem Analysis

It becomes important to ask yourself not just how to design for an occupant need, but also why that need is most important. Also, it is beneficial to do a study of what your design can achieve when a particular root problem is discovered and a solution is unlocked. This will prevent you from spending unnecessary time and effort chasing the wrong problem – or designing for a core problem in the wrong way.

Of course, an architectural design should be solving and uplifting quality of life innovatively by solving for a multitude of needs and problems within a design project. Yet, these often stem from root problems that create “symptoms” which appear as problems themselves.

The Importance of Designing for the Core Problem

I experienced an example of all of this in a bank recently. You see, I went into the bank and realized there was a lot of acoustical overlapping within the large room which was serving many functions. Tellers on one side, a large television with bank advertisements on the other side, customers waiting in line for the tellers, and banker-to-customer conversations were all competing to be heard. Instead, what resulted was a “hodge-podge” of sound. In this example, the root cause of the sound problem was that all of these functions were happening within this large bank space at the same time, creating a space where hardly anything could be heard.

One solution to this bank acoustical problem is to create a separate but adjoining room where bankers and customers could go to have discussions. However, this is a solution to one of the bank’s “symptoms” of the root problem. This solution is not addressing the root problem where all of the bank’s occupants must function within an uncomfortable space. As you can see, designing a separate and adjoining room is not the right design path. Instead, if one designs for the root problem, the bank will be able to function at dramatically improved employee and customer levels.

Unlocking Your Design’s Potential

When you take the time to find and solve for the core problem within your project, your design’s potential will increase. Your design will bring greater benefit for those it serves. To do this, be sure you are seeing project problems clearly. Often, problems which are symptoms can lead you to the root problem. And this is where your design can boost its potential by having your design creation strengthen your project system’s weakest part. This is where the leverage resides, and with this you can put forth the most benefit with your design solutions. In other words, your architectural design will solve for a problem that really matters, in a way that really matters. And this makes all the difference.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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