“The real process of architecture is still a little misunderstood”

18 March, 2020

Thomas Coombes of Studio Thomas on working with Threefold Architects that won the Best Visual Design category in the 2019 Archiboo Awards

What are some of the classic mistakes architects make with their websites?

It’s about the need to make architecture more accessible and I think one common mistake is trying to say or show too much. Being more curatorial or confident in an edit not only makes the website less of a hurdle, it’s likely to have more impact. To do this we need to stop thinking of websites as a digital archive because who is this for? The other tendency is an obsession with making something very controlled, monochrome, neat and tidy, which reflects a finished building, but the process of architecture is actually very messy, complex, imperfect and nonlinear. The way architecture is presented often hides a lot of this interest and backstory and as a result the real process of architecture is still a little misunderstood. It should be one of the jobs of a website to shed some light on this, and maybe move a little away from perfect grey lines and boxes.

How did you approach the design of Threefold’s website?

Throughout the project, from our initial conversations about the Threefold approach, to the build of the site, there was this ongoing theme of layers. Layers are integral to the Threefold ethos, their strength coming from not just one of their founders or founding values, but the combination of all three. We knew from these conversations that not only did we want to make more of the three parts visually, we also wanted to distil the website’s content into three clear parts. To achieve this simplicity, while creating a content rich and dynamic website, the sections needed to be layered, so there was a key focus on the menu system and on how we present a lot of content in an accessible and easily navigable way.

Were there any unexpected challenges?

What started as a simple landing page concept, made up of three blocks of colour plus an image, ended up presenting quite a technical challenge. We wanted to automate the colour selection so that it would be based on the image, which was something we had done before using code to select a colour from the uploaded JPG. The difficult part was that we didn’t need just one colour, but three, one that the image replaces and another two that sit alongside the image and complement each other. The result ended up working well, however there are inevitably combinations that are preferred over others, but we think this unknown element helps the site to feel a little more alive.

Are there any visual design trends in website design that are relevant to architects at the moment? 

We try not to engage too much with what’s trendy, but there are learnings in all industries and I think there’s a current need to make architecture more accessible and immediate. With a portfolio of projects that have taken years and years to realise, how can we summarise this to a user who has an average attention span of 30 seconds? This connects with our approach to the Threefold navigation, and so if we are talking about the visual trends, it was to go large with type, especially within the secondary menu. Also to introduce projects with a value based line rather than an abstract street address.

What are you working on at the moment?

We have recently finished a website for Cobal, we have our fingers crossed for an upcoming project with a really great architectural practice, and we are working on lots of other things less related to architecture.


Thomas Coombes will be a judge for Best Visual Design, one of the categories in the Archiboo Awards which launch in May.