Back in university, there was a tutor that made me remember the most. He was the one with a cowboy hat. However, the cowboy hat was not the feature that made me wrote this article. Instead of coming straight to the students of his group, he always started a studio day with a Big banner sticking on the wall for everyone to see "What is the Big Idea?".
So, what was his intention? He simply explained: You need to think about what your starting point is. From there what story could be told with a strong narrative. The Big idea is always the idea that follows through with the design process and if your design has no big idea, then it could not touch the heart of other people.
That simple explanation has been with me for nearly 15 years. The more mature I got in architecture the clearer my understanding about that becomes as at some certain points of time you suddenly realize that the meaning behind the banner is profoundly deep and it is truly the most vital aspect an architect should have before anything.
The Big Idea tells story. Indeed it does. When you receive a brief from a Client, a Big idea should come up related to the brief's requirement. The brief is only a list of requests that the Client wants to put into his/her project. It is usually not a full descriptive brief, it always needs a lot of touches from the architect. Therefore coming up with a Big idea will be a starting point to build up the Brief further and fulfill the Client's requests. So how can you define the Big Idea? It is a story behind the design. Of course it will be refined until the end of the design process, however the idea that can be a Root to grow from is the most important. Once you have found your Big idea, the story will be developed further based on the Brief. It will have to reflect what the Client needs, as well as input analysis of the architect which help increase the value of the project to its maximum potential. At this point, the Story now becomes a full completed Brief. This Brief is no longer an initial dry brief. It has become a story with full of thoughts and emotion of the Architect which make the design able to touch people's hearts.
There is a saying goes 'Everything happens for a reason'. Architectural Design also does. A lot of misunderstandings think that architect just draws that for fun, or for pleasing the eyes. That really devaluates the profession. Therefore when proposing a Big Idea the Story starts to be formed. The Story will lead people through all the possibilities, potential aspects that could make the project look good and function well and above all the reasons for having those aspects. And those reasons actually help the project's value increased significantly if followed.
The Big Idea defines Architect's Character. Each architect will have different way of thinking, of generating ideas, of approaching the Client and of solving problems. Therefore each style will be revealed when proposing the Big Idea. A lot of questions to be asked when finding the Big Idea: How to respond to the Society; how people would use this, what other benefits occupants could get apart from its main function, how people can access the building, how to save energy for it, what is the orientation, etc. The question list could be used for every project, however the Big Ideas will be different due to each project's location, context, and requirements. Character of an architect will then be shaped up.
In conclusion, the Big Idea is the Root of every project. It has to be identified to give the design process a strong foundation to develop. As an outcome, it brings more values to the project beyond expectation.
***Thank you the Cowboy hat Tutor