Is originality important in architecture?

Originality can be defined as doing something that has never been done before or thought of previously. In architecture, this is very rare. Most architecture that is regarded as original is a combination of existing ideas and methods displayed in a new way.

Innovation in architecture is built on or contains design elements that have been seen before. An original building design has a distinct identity, combining the old with the new. Originality in architecture improves old concepts, components and systems.


Originality in architecture is associated with creativity. The challenge to the architect is to combine an architectural design that satisfies the function of a building but has a stylish look. Creativity finds new of doing this.

For example, Apple is a company that sells technology that functions well and looks attractive. When the iPhone came out, it was not the first mobile phone on the market, but it had a number of innovative features that made it stand out from its competitors. It also looked stylish. The same Apple design philosophy, innovating by combining style with function, can be applied to originality in architecture.

Does architecture need to be original?

A home or commercial building does not have to have original design elements if it fulfils its function. During the coronavirus pandemic, with more people working from home, there has been a high demand for home offices in the garden. An off-the-shelf shed can be purchased and erected quickly. Connect it to the lower supply and broadband, and it’s fine to work in.

It is perhaps better, however, to have an original design created by an architect, provided there is a budget for this. A stylish innovative home office outbuilding with original features is far better than a simple wooden shed.

Originality and tradition

In 1984, Prince Charles famously criticised modernism in architecture, calling the planned National Gallery extension:

“A monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”

Alike Prince Charles, many clients of architects prefer traditional forms of architecture. An architect fulfilling a brief for a traditional building may feel constrained, making it difficult to incorporate originality in the design. However, it’s possible to start with a traditional design and add innovative features.

Personal style

Some buildings have a style that makes it easy to recognise who the architect was. For example, Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings in his Prairie style, which was inspired by the flat broad landscapes of the American Midwest.

If an architect has a style that is easily recognised, does that mean their designs are not original? Within the framework of a recognised style, each building can have innovative features that make it original.

Difficult to measure

It is not easy to define or measure originality in architecture. Building design is influenced by the past, and people often question how far a design must vary from others to be called original.

Despite the opinions of some, as long as an architect creates stylish and functional buildings that satisfy their clients, a building doesn’t have to be original.

Posted by Mark
June 2, 2021

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