"At it's core, Architecture seeks to solve problems. It's the questions we ask that will determine which problems our architecture solves." - Eric Reinholdt, architect.
When we invest time, energy and money into our projects, we want to make sure we are building something that will last, not only physically, but visually and spiritually. "How do I avoid trendy designs?" seems like a softball question to a seasoned design professional, but the answer isn't that straightforward. "How do you design for the now and the later?" I brainstormed on this question as I worked through some of my studio projects and offer my quick thoughts on the subject.
It All Starts with a Concept!
"A design concept is the idea behind a design. It's how you plan on solving the design problem in front of you. It's the underlying logic, thinking, and reasoning for how you'll make a decision. Your concept will lead to your choices in shape, size, scale, color and style."
Without a concept, a project has no direction and can often look and feel trendy or arbitrary. Timeless design comes from a reason for being at the center of a concept; a reason for being that will still be there long after the trend goes away. The following paragraphs offer suggestions on how to create Design Concepts by looking at the big picture and little details that influence trends in design.
1. Identify What External Forces are Influencing Design!
In order to understand and avoid trends, we need to know what factors create them. Everything from environmental challenges, political influences, economic to social patterns shape design. If the world around us is changing, it's natural to see design changing in response, but how to know whether it is just a trend, whether new ideas and materials introduced to the market have staying power? Design aims to solve the unique needs and demands of our current economic, social and environmental climates. Good design keeps the central concepts simple and timeless. Concepts create narratives and those narratives should acknowledge these external influences that are creating the need.
Gleaming glass curtain walls of the 50s and 60s gave way to hulking concrete and brick masses in the 70s and 80s when utility bills skyrocketed during the energy crises due to instability in the Middle East. Boom time in the 90s saw a return to fancy glazings but a new emphasis on sustainability has led to increasing trends in metal screenings and creative facade openings to manage energy use.
2. Explore Ideas Specific to the Project!
The internal forces of the project's needs and demands, as opposed to a general outside influence, can generate concepts as well. These forces can include a client's needs, habits, personalities and priorities, budget, or their unique program. The program is essentially the client's wish list, such as a list of bedrooms or size requirements for a loft space. With commercial clients, concepts can come from their company brand or mission statement to understand what they are about. Together, with their program requirements, we identify a look and feel of the building or space that corresponds with their brand. The design concept should be unique to, and tell a story about, that client. We can avoid being trendy when we can point to the narrative of the concept that gave rise to the form and made the design decision.
The site is another factor specific to the project. Responses to site specific challenges can include position of building, size and scale, sun exposure, shading, and context. Ideas that shape concepts usually start with the site because every site is inherently unique, making every response unique as well. To avoid trendy design, design concepts should be functional responses to the environment surrounding it, their forms should speak to their reasons for being.
Projects in urban neighborhoods either decide to stay within the archetype of the neighboring buildings, or go outside the box as a personal statement with unusual shapes and materials. This can appear trendy, if concepts aren't based in any solid reasoning and execution is poor. The same principles apply to projects in rural settings, where projects respond to their more natural environment, as opposed to an urban context that is tighter and more rigid. Rural homes hug the landscape and take in views with large windows and may have well defined exterior spaces for reflecting or relaxing; a dense subdivision home would look out of place or even gaudy on a rolling piece of land with ponds and grazing cows.
Design can be trendy if it isn't honest about what it is. If it's honest, then it is authentic - and authenticity has staying power! The trendiness of design concepts has been, and will always be, the subject of academic debate in architecture school, and so I can't bottle up an answer to "How to create timeless design?" as it relates to every individual project. What I can say is to look to the external and internal influences and factors that have value to guide you to your concept. Or, more concisely: Follow your heart, build what you love!