What are the Principles of Architectural Design?

What are the Principles of Architectural Design_

Ask the average person what architectural design is about and most jump to the creative aspect. It’s true that architectural design has a great deal to do with creativity, but it’s also rooted in several important principles that help create a design that makes the most out of the building.

While it might be possible to create a piece of architecture without these principles, they’re important to know so that the finished result is a polished appearance. A good freelance architect should study these principles to use them in their designs and know when to try something different.


The world of nature is full of symmetry. Drop a line down the center of the human body, and you will see that, for the most part, our bodies are very symmetrical. There are two eyes, two ears, and each half of our nose and lips looks the same as the other half.

This isn’t unique or unusual. Most animals are symmetrical in this way, and so are most plants and other living creatures too. This is part of why when we look at a symmetrical shape, we feel at ease with it.


Some 3D visualizer services have used asymmetrical designs to good effect, the Sydney Opera House and Disney Concert Hall in California being examples of this. To pull off these designs, careful attention to balance was needed to help give the building an even weight.

Without knowing and understanding what a symmetrical design looks like, however, these asymmetrical wins would have been difficult to create. This is why symmetry is such an important architectural principle.


Without contrast, a perfectly functional building may look or feel boring to the viewer. A common complaint from clients who have hired an architectural detailing service to design a building or remodel for them is that the new design doesn’t “pop.”

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This can be frustrating for the architect since what the customer means isn’t always clear. Generally speaking, however, when a client says something like this, they mean that their building or remodel needs to have more contrast.

Contrast is the difference between two or more features. Black, for example, contrasts sharply against white because they are so different. Contrast is important for several reasons. Contrasting text helps those with visual impairments better make out important information.

It doesn’t have to be color in a design that provides contrast. Size, shape, and typography can all have a difference in the contrast in the design.


Sometimes as a CAD designer, you will want to give one particular part of the design more importance than other areas. There are many ways to assign hierarchy in a design. If you create one window that is bigger than the others, for example, the bigger window will have more importance than the other windows.

A contrasting shape, color, or placement can also help lead others to understand this architectural feature is more important. Hierarchy is important to help guide the eye around the building and prevent the design from getting too monotonous.

Forming an Axis

An axis is a line defined by two points in the space available. To form an Axial Composition, an architectural model-making service will use techniques such as the design principles listed above, to create two points in the feature. These points will help draw the eye.

You’ve probably already seen and appreciated an axis when you walk down a busy city street. The pattern of buildings along the line of the street can form an Axial Composition. Patterns, contrast, and hierarchy can all help in creating an Axial Composition.


Similar to the Axis is a datum. In some cases, they can be both. A datum simply takes objects that don’t really match and form a continuous pattern that does make them match. In the earlier example of an Axle Composition, we had buildings along a street forming the Axial Composition. If every one of these buildings was a different shape, it would still form a pattern along the road, making it a datum also.

The main purpose of a datum is to help add a little bit of control and purpose to otherwise disorganized shapes, and it can do so through any of the above principles.


While playing around with size can help add contrast and create a hierarchy, it can also end up working against the design if it lacks proportion. A huge roof on a tiny building will look out of place, as will a huge knob on a normal-sized door.

A large window might serve as an accent point, but a window too big for the wall, or a sill too small for the window, will look out of proportion.

It’s a delicate balance between creating a hierarchy and creating proportion, but most of the time, it’s fairly easy to distinguish where the line is.


In music, the rhythm of the song is very important. A regular beat is what turns something into a melody from simple noise. The pattern in design is like a visual song, helping to create repetition that appears through the whole design.

A pattern might be a row of windows or doors evenly spaced apart, or a stretch of evenly spaced stairs. If doors are simply thrown up any which way, or windows placed oddly, the result is a disrupted pattern that feels like visual noise.

Patterns abound in nature also, with uniformity in colors, shapes, and sizes of the plants and animals that make up the world. People evolved for millennia in the patterns of nature, and because of this, many people find patterns extremely soothing.

A quality architectural site planner will create patterns with repeating designs in their work so that the resulting design is pleasing to the eye.


It’s not just visual contrast that is needed to help make a design stand out. We are sensory creatures, and too often, vision is the only sense readily made use of. Texture can add another point of visual beauty to a design, but also add in touch as well.

Whether an object is rough or smooth plays a part in how we experience it. If everything in the design has the same texture, it will likely feel lacking, even if the rest of the design is very good. Texture, as well as other sensory inputs, can be an important part of the design.

Visual Movement

When a viewer looks at a building, whether it’s the outside of the structure or the interior design, their eyes will follow a certain movement pattern. If the design is very disjointed, the viewer may be left confused as to where to look first. This can be a very unpleasant experience.

Instead, an architectural drafting service should guide the viewer’s eyes through focal points, which control the eye’s motion. This can be done by using the principles we have discussed earlier, such as creating contrasting shapes and hierarchies.

With so many other things to consider, planning visual movement can feel like a struggle. In general, however, once the rest of these design principles are mastered, visual movement will come along with it.

A Good Designer Knows When to Bend the Rules

As we mentioned earlier, many of these design principles have been broken in the past, and the results are good. Skyscrapers have been bent into odd shapes, airports turned into art pieces, and so much more.

By carefully studying the rules, you can know how and when to break them. Breaking the rules can sometimes lead to new solutions to problems and create a piece that otherwise wouldn’t work for the client’s situations.

Although most of the time these principles will need to be adhered to, there is always an exception to every rule. After all, if a camouflaged blind contrasted with its environment, it would not serve its purpose. Sometimes, the rules need to be broken to fulfill the problem that needs to be solved.


The world is full of rich and unique architectural designs. The beauty of New York’s skyscrapers, the rich detail of Gothic style cathedrals, and the bright colors of the renaissance period are all very different.

Yet despite the vast differences in style, 3D architectural visualization services adhere to the same basic principles no matter where you go. These styles all feature patterns, a good sense of proportion, contrast, and more.

Architecture is a constantly evolving field. The architecture we consider modern today will likely look archaic to the people of the future. No matter what time period a design comes from, it will usually circle back to these same principles.

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