17 Ways Architects Get Inspired (with creative exercises)

17 Ways Architects Get Inspired (with creative exercises)

One of the difficult things about architectural design is how subjective it can be. Architects have to constantly be inspired and get creative to come up with design and finding out ways to make that design work.

With consistent deadlines and project timelines, architects need to design in a timely manner. Creative exercises are one way that architects can get new ideas and try things out to arrive at a design that’s different but still works!

Architects will always face different scenarios and experience different contexts, requiring them to always find inspiration and new ideas. The objective of these creative exercises is not to come up with the complete and fleshed out ideas, but to instead stimulate thought. Through these exercises, architects attempt to get into a thought and work process that will excite them and allow for exploration.

Read more to learn about creativity, how architects get creative, and the actionable steps that you can take to also be more creative for your design projects.

17 Ways Architects Get Inspired (with creative exercises)

What is creativity

You’ll find a lot of different definitions for creativity on the net. For our purposes, we’ll define it as the characteristic of finding alternative designs, decisions, and results through the use of one’s imagination.

What’s difficult about creativity is how subjective it is. How one person’s idea and understanding of a topic might seem stupid or unreasonable to another’s. Because of this, the art world and any creative field will always have critics who like to dissect and

A building is only established as beautiful, if a general amount of people finds it so. Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but it

Where does creativity come from?

Creativity is a result of our brain’s mistakes in connecting ideas together. 

The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for short-term memory, planning, and cognitive flexibility. The brain is never perfect when it comes to storing memory and definitely not perfect when it comes to understanding information.

What happens is that ideas, while incubating in the brain, get “remixed” by the brain to make it easier to understand and remember it. If you think about it, not everyone has the same understanding of a topic even if they read it from the same book.

Our brain’s like to make associations and connect the dots, this characteristic is exactly what allows the birth of new ideas and innovations. Using remixed information, our brains come up with it’s own version and understanding of what could be.

If you’ve ever had a eureka moment, which I’m sure all of us have experienced, then you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.

An idea that manages to connect these ideas together, is what we can label as inspiration. Inspiration gives your brain certain stimulation that allows it to connect all the current information it understands into a new idea.

It’s important to understand how our brains come up with new ideas if we wanna maximize our creativity. Just like how you would optimize a computer for a certain task, you would want to optimize your brain to give you that

17 Ways Architects Get Inspired (with creative exercises)

The creative process

The creative process is a set of actions and collection of ideas that allows a person to arrive at a proper and final idea.

The creative process is important to understand because it allows architects, and other professions, to be able to systematically stimulate new thought. As implied by our definition, certain actions have been found to help bring in new ideas into the mind.

What’s the point of creativity in architectural design?

The point of creativity in architectural design is for the architect to provide something new and original to the client. If you were to have a house built, you would want it to be original and special to you right?

If you think about it, there are no two buildings in the world that are exactly the same. Each building is originally planned to fit into its environment, the client’s needs, and serves different functions.

Sure you may find buildings that look somewhat the same, like in a townhouse for example, but that’s not the point.

The point is that houses can’t be reproduced and mass-manufactured, the need to be carefully designed and tailored for a specific person. You can have a painted copy of the Mona Lisa but good luck trying to recreate Falling Water brick by brick.

Creative exercises

These are the 17 creative exercises that architects utilize to  find inspiration during a project .

You can use these creative exercises as a habit in your design process or if you’re just stuck and don’t know which direction to go to next.

The main objective of all of these exercises is to stimulate something else in your brain, to give your frontal cortex a new set of information and have your brain thinking in a way it hasn’t done before.


Architects use words as sort of a method of synthesizing what the client wants into one characteristic or embodying it into one object in order to easily manage to the side .

Using keywords can help architects be more creative by serving as an unconventional guide during the design process. 

Simple words such as a leaf, nature, reflection, mirror, and etc. can be used to stimulate new ideas by attempting to find ways that architects can embody these words to  their design .

Actionable step

Try using a word that resonates with you or even just the first word that comes into mind. Don’t have any particular word planned out, in fact force yourself to use words that are almost completely disconnected from your design.

This works great because it challenges you to find unconventional ways to modify your design in accordance with that word, whether that be through form, shapes, plans, and etc.


Setting more limits, even non-existent ones, is a great way for an architect to be able to challenge themselves creatively by coming up with a design that meets unconventional rules while still being somewhat sensical. Creating limitations that have almost baffling rules is the way to go with this method.

Actionable step

Have fun and really set up limitations that really don’t make sense. Something like having no windows in one room, having no straight lines, having all windows, and etc are all good examples of what can really challenge you to think outside the box.

An exaggerated solution, when toned down and made realistic, is often a great solution!


 Architects use trends in order to be able to come up with the news of the industry. Emerging technologies as well as a shift in aesthetics are the characteristics that architects usually look for in a trend.  The great thing about trends is that they’re always changing, and architects have to find new ways to incorporate these into their designs .

Actionable step

Look up the current trends that are dominant in the architectural field right now. These can range from categories such as being environmentally friendly as, use of curvature in architecture, minimalism etc., See how you can fit in certain aspects from these trends into your current design.


A design philosophy is an established set of  methodologies and beliefs, stemming from previous movements,  that an architect can choose to subscribe to. Such philosophies can be used creatively by applying these philosophies based on the current context and situation of the project and of the building .

Actionable step

Choose the philosophy that resonates most with you and try to see how you can apply it to your design. A good practice is to also mix and match the different ideas from different philosophies and try to form a cohesive design.


Surprisingly recent studies have shown that procrastinating is a valid method of becoming more creative, as long as it’s within the proper context and only up to a reasonable amount of time.

The idea behind it is to leave your current train of thought when working on a project and just rest your mind. While the ideas are simmering in your brain, connections can form and from there you can come back into the project with a fresh pair of eyes and new ideas.

Actionable step

Simply relax and take a break. Don’t think about your current design at all and instead really just focus on making the most out of your break. If you really want this to be a productive procrastination session, avoid activities that stimulate brain activity and instead do boring things like house chores! This helps the brain rest and try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. 


Freeflow is simply designed with no direction. The architect simply experiments with their current tools and sees what looks nice without any basis whatsoever.

This may seem counterproductive but what this does is that it allows the architect that arrive at something they already believe looks good and attempts to give it a basis by adjusting it to make it more feasible.

Actionable step

The only advice I can give for this exercise is to just go crazy and to go unfiltered. As much as possible, you want to have no direction at all when attempting to do freeflow and instead just attempt to make something beautiful.

Just expect that like a first draft, it’s gonna be really messy and you will be going from idea to idea while on freeflow mode.


Architects ask for feedback from their peers because it gives them information regarding different aspects and points of views that they either haven’t thought off or haven’t considered when coming up with the design.

With the feedback given, architects have to find a way to synthesize these into a cohesive structure. These feedbacks are generally comments on the current characteristics of the buildings or plan, that can be improved upon or is lacking.

Actionable step

For feedback, it’s highly suggested to get it from people who don’t have a background in architecture. This helps because you are able to get opinions from a point of view that is from a layman’s side, people who don’t have a background in architecture simply see a building as it is.

You can of course always consult with your fellow architectural contemporaries and see what comments or suggestions they have in mind for your design.


Although controversial and somewhat unreliable, being under the influence can also help in creativity. As Ernest Hemingway once said “Write drunk, edit sober”.

Some architects like to get under the influence, most likely with alcohol. in order to further begin coming up with new ideas or new approaches.

Most of the time, these ideas are not very tangible or even actionable but what they do is bring something new to the table. Just like procrastination, influences put someone in a different headspace and this allows them to think about things differently.

Afterwards, it goes back to connecting the dots and determining where the architect can pick up from the ideas they came up with while under the influence.

Actionable step

Get a few cold ones and just relax. Keep drawing materials nearby and see where it takes you.


Just like how words can be used as a basis for designs, real life objects can also be used. Architects imagine an object and they attempt to make  it into a building.  from the form of that object .

This is actually quite a common practice. You’ll see some buildings that are shaped like certain household items.

Actionable step

For this exercise to be really fruitful to get those creative juices going you gotta get unconventional objects, something like a wallet folded in a certain way, your office chair, your fork.

Find everyday objects that you wouldn’t think of as a building and try to see if you could try to make a building out of it.


It’s never a wrong thing to take inspiration from others, as long as you don’t plagiarize it or copy it without adding any originality to it. Architects sometimes use other buildings that they personally find beautiful, as a basis for certain components of their design.

These buildings don’t even have to be real! There’s a lot of fictional architecture in games, movies, comics, books and the like that can also serve as inspiration.

Actionable step

Create a portfolio of buildings that you love. Collect pictures and use it as a reference for different parts of your design. The challenge here is to once again, find a way to make them all into one cohesive unit by reinventing the building that you’re using as a basis, into something that could fit into your current design.

11. Learning new things

Learning new things is always a sure fire way to find new ideas. Learning and giving your brain access to new information might just connect some dots you haven’t connected before.

“Eye-opening” is the term used when you receive that new information that just changes your perspective on something. Architects can also use this to their advantage when it comes to design!

            Actionable step

Learn something NEW, that’s right don’t go back to something that you already know and go straight into something you think is interesting. Find a way to connect what you’ve learned with what you’re currently working on and see where it takes you.

12. Imaginary scenarios

We went into how “fake” limitations can be used as a method of creativity. This time, architects can use imaginary scenarios to help them generate new ideas. Scenarios like, a house for fishes or a house for astronauts are things that can really get the creative juices going.

Actionable step

Think of ways to repurpose the building to make way for wacky users such as a house for spiders, astronauts, tree-people, and etc. It may sound silly but it’s a surefire way to generate new ideas. 

13. Sleep

What happens when you sleep? This is the time that the brain takes to recover by reviewing its contents. Sleeping is really when your brain synthesizes information, releases subconscious thought through dreams, and prepares the brain for the next day. A good night sleep is always a guaranteed way to get the brain fired up for new ideas. 

            Actionable step

Get a good night rest by reducing blue light exposure in the evening, reducing caffeine and naps later into the day, and designing your bedroom in such a way that minimizes disturbances.

14. Writing

Writing can also be used as a method of creativity. Instead of drawing a building, architects can also write about one. Since it’s an entirely different process from writing, the brain is forced to observe and understand things in a different manner in order to be capable of putting things in words.

Architects can write about their own buildings and designs to find any holes as well as to come up with a better description for their building which they can then implement into their actual design.

            Actionable step

You can either write a brief description or analysis of your design. Observe how you describe things to better assess your understanding of what you think the design is and rewrite it in such a way that makes it sound better on paper. Translate whatever you wrote back into your original design.

15. Deadlines and activating flow

Ever notice that people tend to get extremely productive when they need to rush work. They begin rushing and just do without thinking carefully, as long as they get the results that they need.

Architects set up their own internal deadlines to make sure that they’re pacing themselves property. What these deadlines do is that it forces the brain into overdrive and allows architects to continuously work on their design.

This state of mind is commonly referred to as “flow”. Flow doesn’t necessarily have to be achieved by rushing to a deadline but it’s described as a state in which you no longer have to think and instead your brain just automatically does the work for you.

It usually arises from a task that has an appropriate amount of motivational rewards while at the same time challenges a person’s skill to a certain degree.

            Actionable step

Simply taking action, with any of these creative exercises, and allowing your mind to take over allows you to enter into the flow state. Make sure that you remain undistracted during this time period and that all of your focus is currently centered at the task at hand.

16. Creative applications

Architects can use applications to their advantage when searching for new ideas. Applications are capable of showcasing and laying out a train of thought, which allows the user to view their line of thought.

            Actionable step

Use creative applications by creating mind maps, diagrams, charts, analysis, and etc. Synthesize the data or ideas you’ve gathered for a project and observe how well you can .

17. Journaling

Journaling helps you keep track of your ideas, as well as review them for future use. Recording ideas is  one of the biggest strengths of journaling, as our brains tend to forget or imperfectly remember details and past ideas.

            Actionable step

Use a journal, either physical or digital, and take note of any ideas that suddenly pop up. Make sure that you can easily make entries into your journal and make sure to develop a habit of capturing your ideas as they come. When you need new ideas, read through your past notes to see if any old ideas can be revised to fit into the context of your current project.

These creative exercises are all capable of helping an architect find inspiration. As design is subjective, there is no truly right or wrong way of getting methods.

Architects choose their creative exercises based on what they want to achieve when it comes to the design. Some exercises are better at creating appearances while others can assist in designing for function.

These creative exercises are not only for architects, but for any professions that require outside the box thinking.

17 Ways Architects Get Inspired (with creative exercises)

Is creativity only for design?

No, creativity is not only for designing beautiful buildings . Contrary to popular belief, creativity can also be used by architects to come up with different and unconventional solutions that work. 

Creative solutions involve the different aspects of the buildings, aside from just its physical appearances.

 For example, one of the goals of an architect is to design a space in such a way that promotes its intended purposes.

There are many methods that could be used to achieve this goal such as preventing a certain behavior, see hostile architecture, or by making a certain behavior obvious and automatic(reason why most light switches are located beside the door.)

Different design decisions and applications can be considered creativity because it works off an idea that it would be able to achieve something. The different mechanisms of a building are capable of functioning well together through creative planning and decisions such as these.

Are there any interests that help an architect be more creative?

Yes, having a good background in the arts is a great way to ensure that your brain has the necessary tools and understanding of methodologies to help it come up with good original designs.

Knowing the different techniques and concepts of what makes things aesthetically pleasing as well as the different prevalent theories helps architects when they make their designs.

Our brains may be capable of coming up with new ideas, but remember that those ideas come from connecting the dots of your own remixed understanding of what you know.

Even as freshmen, architecture students are already thinking about the different visual techniques, ideas, aesthetics, as well as the different meanings behind each and every form.  If your design was a painting, then an understanding of the arts would be the paint.

Aside from art, an architect can also increase their creativity by studying basic analysis, learning how to learn about things, to improve how their brain can process information with good habits. These habits vary from person to person, the general gist is to analyze information by understanding the who,what,why,where, and how of something. 


 Just like in writing , the first draft that an architect will make is not going to be good. In fact, it definitely goes through a constant phase of being revised and changed throughout the entirety of a project. Creative exercises, such as the ones listed in this article, are utilized in order to stimulate the architect’s ability to come up with new and fresh ideas. 

The thing with creativity, which can be true for any profession, is that it comes from a person’s beliefs, experiences, knowledge, and biases. It will always be subjective, but the main point of the architect is to make a building that looks aesthetically pleasing for the client and for the nearby environment. This objective provides a funnel and direction in which architects can keep their ideas centered towards.


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