Ask an Architect: Daniel Marshall

Q: What is conceptual design? We have asked for a price from an architect to draw up our house and they have a fee for that. We know exactly what we want so why should we pay for that?

A: Conceptual design is the assimilation of an aspiration brief with the complexities of context and the restrictions of regulations of regulatory frameworks and budget. An architect spends five years at University honing their skills to rationalise massive complexities into a functional and beautiful form. The value of this should not be underestimated, one of my favourite quotes about architecture is that it should be a process of editing rather than addition. Less actually is More.

We have made a diagram that we feel clearly illustrates this process. Made with rings from the bottom of wine glasses. Because, well, wine helps.

Diagram indicating Daniel Marshall Architects' approach to concept design.

Often we fine that when clients say they know exactly what they want, the reality is that they have clearly thought about their brief - which is fantastic, because having a very clear brief before a project starts is incredibly important. But this is not a design, because the sculptural arrangement of the functional requirements is where the magic happens.

It is when you walk into a space and you go "wow! this space feels amazing" and you can't identify why. That wonder was born in the initial space making and is enhanced as a design continues. One of the best compliments one of my clients has given me was; "you gave us everything we never knew we always wanted." These clients came from a civil engineering background and had given me the exact dimensions of every space in the house that they wanted, and yet the final arrangement was nothing like they had conceived. And they loved it! This is what you are paying for. And to be honest, this is where the financial value of your project and be most enhanced it you choose to use one of Auckland's many talented residential architects.

An early concept drawing for a house in Waiheke from my sketch book.

Different architects will deliver a concept in different ways, but it is the idea that is important. Our office will provide sketch plans and a physical model at 1:100 scale. Some offices will create sketches and others might provide computer renderings. They are all media of the conceptual process and all valuable if they help get the idea across. The concept is the moment of creation, it is the DNA that will grow through the design process and the financial value of a good architectural concept can not be measured. (Daniel Marshall)