• Angie Lane

Why You Need an Architect: Design

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

Design. Seems obvious, right? Architects design buildings. That's their job, mystery solved. In many cases, you don't legally need an architect. There are many contractors, design-build firms and "designers" out there who provide design services. And there are some good ones out there, some have architects on staff. But many do not. Many have no background in design whatsoever. They can get the job done but it doesn't necessarily translate to good design. Good design/bad design is clearly subjective but it's SOUL that makes good design. Yes, function, feasibility and scads of other considerations go into it but when all is said and done and well designed building has soul. A presence. The opposite of that is soulless, which is what bad design is.

I realize that cost is a factor*. However, I guarantee you that a good architect could take the exact same square footage, desired materials and construction methods, and budget and put together a much better building. *For a checklist to keep your construction project on-budget, click here!

Whether you gravitate towards traditional or modern styles, good design is important. It involves site planning (see my previous post), functional analysis, attention to detail & proportions, knowledge of local building practices, materials, codes, etc. What I see most often with bad design is a bastardization of high design and this translates to soulless architecture. Sounds snobby but it's really just the same way of saying good design. In this post, I'm going to contrast the high design/low design of 3 building types: homes, strip malls, and office buildings.

One of my favorite examples of bastardized good design, ironically, is from one of my least favorite architects: Frank Lloyd Wright. You probably wouldn't think he "invented" the ranch house but that's who I credit as it's unintentional creator. And when I say ranch house, I am speaking pejoratively about those soulless, ubiquitous homes that are EVERYWHERE. Without going into all the tenets of Prairie Style, in a nutshell, it's a low profile, long floor plan, relationship with the landscape design style. Frank Lloyd Wright's "ranch" homes are this: (this is also a good example of soul. I do not like most of Frank Lloyd Wright's work but, beyond a doubt, it has SOUL)

And here is what became of that high design. It was distilled down to it's most basic elements without any of the thought, proportion or details. Builder after builder said to a client, "I can do that" or, my favorite, "I can do that and I can do it cheaper".


We've all seen beautiful homes so I'm not going to post a million of them just to celebrate good design. (although beautiful design is definitely worth celebrating!) My goal is to show the value of a good architect by comparing good examples with not so good.

This house has been all over Pinterest and it's fantastic. Distilled down to it's basics, here's what it is; asymmetry, multiple gables, differently scaled volumes. What makes it special is the quirky window placement, playful curving roof line, elaborate trim detailing, and the bold color and contrast.

And here's the same basic distilled elements; asymmetry, multiple gables, differently scaled volumes. But the "playful" bay window is crammed onto that volume and crashes into the eave returns, the trim is virtually non-existent and weird (those attic vents!), and the absolutely blah color palette.

Townhouses are another type of architecture that can get really un-designed. Below are 2 examples of classic brick townhouses. Typically 3 stories, a walk up, and with limestone accents and trim.

And here is that not great version of a brick and limestone townhouse. We've all seen them. The soulless version of the above designs. It doesn't help that this one appears to be in the middle of nowhere and not even appropriate to use a townhouse building type.

The previous examples were traditional so I definitely wanted to include a few modern versions of townhouses because I love the way they nod to the traditional architectural type but with contemporary compositions and materials.

Genesee Townhomes by Chris Pardo Design

Cut Triplex Townhouse / SPACECUTTER

Park Place Mayfair House, SHH architects


The words themselves conjure up visions of endless, indistinguishable tracts of stores and parking lots with backlit signage as the only method of wayfinding.

And it's not necessarily that the formula of strip mall is being broken. It's just huge improvements on what is otherwise generic architecture with zero interest (soulless again!).

Unifying design elements and individual storefronts without signage on what is typically the sign band.

Again, unifying design elements. The bold color adds distinction. I love how all the signage is the same which gives brand presence to the entire building/complex vs a hodge podge of various store brands. Probably not popular with store owners ;)

I love how this one adds some height to a traditionally low, long building type. It also has unifying features and the idea of signage being the same throughout with individuality occurring at the storefronts instead of the sign band.

Very traditional low, long layout with parking in front but same colored awnings and the same sign type in the sign band successfully unifies the building as well as gives a bit of a vintage feel.


The ubiquitous suburban box. Soulless. Have I mentioned that a well designed work environment increases productivity and morale?

Soul, interest, excitement:

Varna Office Building — MMXX Architects

A-lab | a f a s i a

Elder & Cannon Architects - Glasgow City Mission

And the moral of the story is: invest in architecture. Well designed architecture increases productivity in the workplace, boosts engagement with public spaces, and enhances home life. Architecture is an investment in yourself.

#midwestmodern #officebuildings #gooddesign #baddesign #stripmalls #welldesigned #architecture #modernarchitecture #traditionalarchitecture

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