New sessions have begun at architecture schools, at many Universities. At architecture schools, by now, new design briefs must have been prepared and introduced. Students must be going through phase I of any design process, that is understanding design brief. Next, soon, they will move to the next phase, case studies. Case studies are an important and integral part of any design process. These delve into the depth of problem solving methodologies already adopted in past by designers. Case studies make it easier for students  to take some decisions and refer to some precedent.

Architectural Case Study

Photograph: Siddharth Kulkarni

Why Case Study?

I am yet to come across a design problem which is not based on the building type that doesn’t already exist. There could be some universities focussing on such problems or exercises. In such cases, there wouldn’t be any case studies. Of course, a different kind of investigation, research and survey will be required. For the exercises, where similar or same building types already exist, it is fairly easy to find and do case studies. Why case study? The problems that you are yet to solve or face, may have been already solved or attempted by somebody in past. Case study involves an in depth investigation of the approach towards solving these problems. I am being specific here, it is not the study of the final product, it is also the study of approach towards solving certain problems.

Importantly, case study shall not be only restricted to successful and popular buildings. One must also investigate and analyse some failures to ensure that these do not get repeated when you are set to design something.


Students, even before you set yourself out for any case study, ensure that you have correctly read and understood the design brief. You have a clear idea of requirements of the spaces, users, location and even submission schedule. This will help you in shortlisting appropriate case studies. Like I have said earlier, case studies shall not be only of the successful examples, but also of some failures.

A single case study is always a big NO NO. Case studies shall be done for buildings set in different environments and climate, of different scales and by different architects preferably. Students must personally do at least two case studies of different nature in addition to some book case studies.

Now, assuming that you have understood the brief clearly, shortlisted the case studies you would like to do, finalise two case studies keeping following things in mind:

1. Schedule, lesser the travel time better for case study. At least one case study must be approachable easily and located as near as possible. The other one could be little far in different climatic condition.

2. You will be able to talk to the architect, click photographs, measure and sketch on site. On some sites, specially protected monuments, public spaces or government buildings photography, sketching and measuring may not be allowed. you may have to seek permissions from appropriate authorities. Seek permissions much in advance.

3. Local weather and situation must be analysed before you finalise the case studies. Heavy rains, summer heat may land you in a great disappointment at times. In India, strikes and protests are common scenes these days. Ensure that such  events do not affect your study and schedule both.

In my personal opinion, teachers must accompany students for case studies. Whether these are first year students of final year students. Students are too young and untrained to analyse and investigate many aspects of architectural spaces, which teachers can easily do and guide students. Also, many finer details may go overlooked, neglected or unnoticed by young untrained minds. Assistance from teachers would be of great help. 

Safely assuming that case studies have been finalised and following things are on your carry-along list:

Camera, sketching and drawing material, measuring tape, drawings of building that you are going to study, voice recorder in case you are going to interview the architect and clothing suitable for local weather.

On Site:

If you are a part of a group, ensure that you know your responsibilities and tasks very well. DO NOT start clicking as soon as you have landed on the site. Go around the building, around every space with a notebook and a pen. Ensure you have been through every corridor and passage, every room, toilets, canteen, leisure areas and any other spaces. Talk to users, visitors, owners of the building. Take notes and list down important observations.

Do not only visit the spaces that you are assigned as a group member, but also other spaces that you may not have to study or document. At this point you may decide to take your camera out and start clicking. Ensure every minute detail is recorded either by way of photographs or sketches.

Case studies in architecture are not only about the study of the final resultant, but also, study of methods and approach involved in solving certain problems specific to the building or campus. These could be related to the local weather, limitation with respect to the site, location, approach, size, shape or topography and others.

Talk with the users about the use of spaces by them, comfort levels, problems they might be facing and solutions according to them.

Before you think that you are done with the case study, check. Check twice that you have all the information that will help you analyse the building and also give you the whole picture. Check if you have touched upon all important aspects of the building / campus. Some of these are listed below, in no particular order:

1. Site (Location, topography, access and shape)
2. Climate (Micro and macro both)
3. List of various activities being performed.
4. Form
5. Colour, texture (finishes) and light
6. Circulation / movement patterns, for both vehicles and pedestrians
7. Articulation of spaces and forms
8. Orientation w.r.t climate, function, view, access or any other
9. User details (demographics of active users and passive users)
10. Approach to site / building
11. Zoning (primary spaces, secondary spaces, tertiary spaces, connections like passages, corridors, transition spaces)
12. Structure, materials used
13. technologies involved in construction
14. Services (Plumbing, lighting, HVAC etc.)
15. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic

Once you have verified and ensured that the required information has been collected, move to the analysis part. Which focuses on answering many WHYs and finding out reasons for some design decisions. Ask as many questions as possible, even basic ones and write down the answers. Support answers with photographs or sketches if necessary.

There you start with your design exercise, which has to be one step ahead of case study you have just finished.