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Exploring places through design themes

Discover some design themes.

One way to shape and share our thoughts about the design of buildings is to use themes.

Architects often use design themes or principles in order to analyse and evaluate spaces, and to guide their design decisions.

For example, inclusivity is a theme which helps focus attention on ​how people with different needs or characteristics may be able to use the building and its facilities. Themes may relate to different aspects of design, but may also express different values, underlying the design process. Form, function and feeling are themselves design themes, or lenses through which to look at design.

Working with themes can help a community to explore different aspects of their place and to frame issues or opportunities for design. It can help them develop a better understanding of diverse viewpoints, values or priorities and will ultimately also help them communicate with architects and other experts.

The Empowering Design Project has created a website called Explore Design which aims to help people explore and understand the design of community buildings through ten themes: access, context, delight, enterprise, flexibility, identity, legibility, maintenance, resources and security. Under each theme, you can find a number of illustrated examples. You can explore the website at your own time, outside the course if you are interested.

For the purpose of this course you will concentrate on four design themes: delight, maintenance, access and flexibility.

Delight is a theme which focusses attention on the things that make people respond in a positive way as they approach or move through a building. Elements like colour, light, textures, or the scale or shape of particular objects may contribute to this sense of delight. A place that feels well managed, clean, welcoming and that serves the needs of its users can feel utterly delightful.

Maintenance is a theme which focusses attention on how a building is managed, both in terms of its fabric and its functions. The choice of materials, energy, light and waste management systems, as well as the layout and accessibility of spaces, all come together to support the long-term appearance, functionality and sustainability of a building. The management and maintenance of a building involves consideration of the everyday running requirements, as well as routine and seasonal care over a year or many years.

Access is a theme that focussed attention on ​how easy it is for people with different needs to approach and navigate the building, or use its facilities. It underlies everything from how people enter the building and physically move into the space, to signage, sounds, and more generally how different types of users may experience different aspects of a building and its services.

Flexibility is a theme that relates to adaptability, and draws attention to a consideration of the potential of a space to accommodate different uses and configurations now and in the future. This includes consideration of the permanence of certain fixtures or installations and how easy it is to implement changes.

In the next step you will explore these themes in a practical way. ​

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