“Design is a game of find and seek, where the seeker does not know what he/she is looking for until he/she has found it” paraphrase from the introduction to H. Janson’s History of Art

With so many styles and trends of architecture out there today, it is confusing to pick a place to start talking about design. We all take the first step to unravel this complexity when we first picked up a crayon, pencil, paint, pen or chalk and begin to draw. Design can’t be fully appreciated unless you open your creative mind to the possibilities of design. Is design simply a style or way of building? What is good design and what is bad? Will I know good design if if I see it?

Elements of Design:

Line, Shape and Volume, Texture, Value, Space, Color and Form


A mark made by an implement as it is draw across a surface. Line can be used on two levels. Subjective to express emotional states or feelings. Objective to describe simple measurements. There are many types of line. Sometimes you will hear someone say that a building has classical lines or that car had great lines. If you look closely you will find the lines in which the design was created around. This might also be referring to a shadow line or outline of an object.

Illustrated below are examples of lines in furniture and architecture. These are straight lines.

Fernando and Humberto Campana Detail

Fernando and Humberto Campana Black Iron Chair

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 by Sou Fujimoto

Shape and Volume 

The two categories of shape are organic and geometric shape.

The strong shapes of this iconic building define the interior volumes clearly.

Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon

Sydney opera House by Jørn Utzon

Zaha Hadid was an expert drawer and created beautiful architectural shapes and volumes. The dark values and shadows help define the futuristic wavy lines of this building.

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center by Zaha Hadid

The volume in this pavilion is three fold. On a detail level it would be the volume of the rectangular tubes which form a vaulted interior volume and ironically give the exterior volume of the pavillion a flowing organic shape.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion detail by Bjarke Ingels

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2016 by Bjarke Ingels

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2016 by Bjarke Ingels


The tactile quality of a surface or its representation. The three basic types of texture are actual, simulated and invented texture.

The Cobogo house designed by Erwin Hauer makes use of a sinewy, intertwining modular panels that make up the facade to give the building a texture especially from a distance.

Cobogo House by Erwin Hauer

Cobogo House by Erwin Hauer

Brick is as old as the hills but can be a great way of adding texture to a building.

Perforated metal is another great way to add texture to a project.

Messe Hall – Herzog De Meuron


The gradation of tone from light to dark, from white through gray to black.

Classical and Beaux-Arts schools of architecture studied the values of shapes and shadows.

Corinthian Columns

Both Louis Sullivan and Antoni Gaudi were masters at value.

Louise Sullivan Detail

Antoni Gaudi Detail


The spatial relationship of the design elements to produce pictorial depth and perspective. Negative and positive spaces are important in drawing and architecture. This Nolle map below illustrates the courtyards and plazas of Rome documenting the public and private spaces.

Nolle Map of Rome

I don’t know what is the stronger form in this building, the sky or the wood. Notice how the building edges form the negative space of the sky.

Copenhagen Kindergarten – COB Architects

Has anyone defined space more precisely than the sculpture Richard Serra? If you ever have a chance to walk through and experience one of his sculptures, you will know what I mean.

Sculpture – Richard Serra

Sculpture – Richard Serra


Student Model

I don’t think I have ever seen a more dynamic and truly alive space than these in Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Arizona


Visual assessment of the quality of light that is determined by its spectral composition.

The stained glass give the interior space a subtle but beautiful blue green air in Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia Cathedral.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia Cathedral

French International School, Hong Kong- Henning Larsen Architects

Japanese paper manufacturer Takeo installation- Emmanuelle Moureaux Architect



The total structure of a work- that is the relation of the elements of design and the distinctive character of the of the work. The over all form of something is sometimes called the Gestalt. 

We see the whole before we see the individual parts that make up that whole. This idea of seeing the whole before the parts and even more the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts is Gestalt. The principles of grouping (or Gestalt laws of grouping) are a set of principles in psychology, first proposed by Gestalt psychologists to account for the observation that humans naturally perceive objects as organized patterns and objects, a principle known as Prägnanz. These principles are organized into five categories: Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, Closure, and Connectedness.

Principles of Design: Creating unity




There are many styles and types of architecture. Design can be found in many places and all around you if you care to look. Design is both the style and way of building. Often good design is simply something that functions properly like a drinking fountain or the layout of a kitchen. Take note that finding and recognizing the elements of design help you enjoy and understand your surroundings even more.

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