How to Analyze Architecture: a Beginner’s Guide

David Plick — 

8267996765_2ef43c308a_bThis article is for someone who just became interested in design and wants to know how to analyze architecture. Maybe you just moved to a big city, or you’re thinking about buying a modern home, or you just started dating an architect. At this point you’re probably wondering what exactly are the criteria for qualifying a building’s value? One option is to speak talkitecture and fake it. But, you’re better than that, so read this:

How to Analyze Architecture—questions to ask yourself:

What is the Building Built for?
Not all buildings should have the same shape and size. So, ask yourself, is this a residential, office, cultural (museum, library), or multi-functional building? Is it a government building (which means you’ll resent them spending your hard-earned tax dollars if it’s TOO nice)? Does the design match the purpose? How will the building be used? Does it seem useful?

Materials and Facade
What materials are they using? Glass, concrete, stone, recycled tires, shipping containers (very chic right now)? Is it clear how the choice in materials was influenced by the building’s purpose? How about the facade (aka, the exterior)? Does it seem appropriate for the building’s purpose? Does it have the client’s name in big, shiny gold letters on the side?

More on its Usefulness
If you really want to know if a building “works” or not, you should speak to someone who uses it, like the elevator operator or a tenant (in fact, it’s better if they’re not architecture aficionados because you’ll get an honest, unfiltered response—for example, if it’s a Gehry building, perhaps an architecture enthusiast would be less inclined to note its negative aspects). How does this person use the building? Are there facets of its functionality that they complain about? Like, is the bathroom in the kitchen? Do you have to go to another floor to access the bathroom? Wait—there is no bathroom?!?!? See what I’m saying.

What’s the Surrounding Area Like? Does the Building Fit In?
So, I’ll start with perhaps the exception to this conversation—some buildings are meant to be “disruptive” (did you see that duck up there?). The whole purpose of that design was to do something different. Now, whether or not you support disruptive architecture is a matter of taste, and I will not debate that here. But, you should recognize if that is the intention when you analyze the building. And if not, see if the building “fits in” or not. Now, I don’t mean that it has to be identical or even close to the design of everything else. But, on some level, it should make sense with the rest. Is it of a similar height, width, girth to he rest? A lot of architectural analysts believe that the scale of the building should match the surroundings and respect the natural environment.

Light
So, this is actually extremely important in analyzing a building. We are deeply affected by sunlight, and a building should be designed with that in mind. In fact, how an architect works with light is what separates a chump from a talent. Ask yourself, how much natural light is there projected onto and into the building? Are the windows properly positioned to let light in? What does it look like when light is projected onto it? Overall, what is the building’s relationship with light?

Human Movement
How do humans move throughout the building? On stairs? Escalators? How do they ebb and flow? Would it be easy to get lost? Do you like walking around it or does it give you vertigo?

Get Inside and Play with the Thing
Buildings, to a certain extent, are machines, and machines were meant to be used. Use the machine and see if it feels good. Remember: Mercedes isn’t the best car because of that symbol on the hood. It was the superior engine that gave the symbol its reputation.

By: David Plick

2 responses to How to Analyze Architecture: a Beginner’s Guide

  1. Hi, thank you for this nicely written “how to”-guide. I am currently researching architecture and “if it holds its time’s Zeitgeist ” of a Northern German city. Lovely architecture, no joke 😉
    Did you ever think to write about “Bauwagen”? I bought one recently and now I try to train my crafting skills while making it a home.
    By the way: Nice duck! 🙂

  2. This is a very interesting article; helps me to consider aspects of designing & building that I had not thought about before.

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