Subtlety in design


Why be subtle? Is it the same as being simple?

What is bold?

Is it possible to be subtle, yet bold?


The idea of subtlety is gaining popularity, partly inspired by the powerful influences of some international architects, who themselves, I would think are inspired by Zen monasteries and such influences. The advent of minimalism was the beginning of such thought.

In the everyday world of design, however, subtlety and simplicity are at conflict with boldness and complexity. These words have become a bit confusing. The coming of “star architecture” and the aspirations and desires of new cities have added to this confusion. We would like to be seen as different and yet we know that it is a thin line that separates the weird from the brilliant.

I ask myself then, if there is truth and beauty in architecture surely it cannot be built on a conflict of ideas?

The beauty that we find in nature inspires us to reflect on the quality of this essential truth.  A complex world of geometry, a bold array of colours, and an amazing diversity of texture are all woven together by cosmic intelligence into elegant forms of flora and fauna.

The ability to be bold in original thought,  to deeply understand the complexity of the human need  and environmental sustainability and to express it in a language that is sensitive to context and as a part of the larger whole…that, I think is the way of design.

Subtlety is about being bold enough to be simple. It is to resolve the complexity of a program in a gesture that lends elegance and makes it richer in its simplicity.  It is about making things intuitive and human.

The building which looks like a large golf ball or a fish is different from the delicate shells of an opera house that symbolises its gliding through air.

by Samarendra Ramachandra

Featured image: Nezu Museum, Tokyo designed by Kengo Kuma; Photography Credits: Nawal Soofi



  1. The need to be subtle, I feel, is derived through years of weathering oneself in a chaotic environment. It is the need to have a quiet room at the end of a long loud party. The craving for modesty, after witnessing a gender-less orgy.
    To enjoy a green tea without the sugar,
    One must go through the process of madness to find the beauty in ordinary.
    Simplicity needs time. Some can achieve it earlier, while others take more time. Whatever stance one takes on subtlety in art or architecture, be it inspriring or mocking, it surely is a sign of the one’s level of understanding. The level can often form the measurement scale to determine his/her current understanding of beauty.
    Now, after measuring a person/client by this method, to gain insight on his scale of subtlety, the question remains on whether one should cater to his current standards of chaos, Or, educate him on the simple experience? Asking him to grow a little taller than the natural process of his own weathering?
    Should we discard the chemical process of glamour altogether? Is that what nature wants of us?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. to convince a person to see further , to seek deeper is not easy omar!
      however, it is my experience that if we are sincere and gentle , not judgemental but understanding the other person does listen. the clients may not comprehend fully but they yield in to your have to believe that they have hired you to for better judgement . that expectation has to be created even before you seek their project.often it is insecurity or fear that leads one to compromise and then frustration. if you are firm and patient , you win. they will appreciate as the idea sinks in.


  2. If I can put it this way… Subtlety is that tiny bullet shot from a silenced gun that hits the bull’s eye.

    The gun , a tool to be skilled with. The target, something you have missed a million times before,sometimes by a quarter inch. The silencer , your struggle and The bullet is your design.

    Of course it takes time and patience to become a deadly Assassin.

    #SRAedu #samarramachandraassociates

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Subtlety – The new bold
    Quite often these two words are put together to convey a singular meaning in-spite of their obvious literary differences. All thanks to the design lingo, I wouldn’t even be surprised if subtle became a “contronym”. Being simple and subtle is regarded to be a sophisticated form of complexity. A way of putting forward an idea with far less clamor instigates one to appreciate the most quintessential form of that idea. When you start comprehending the true essence of that particular form, that one texture or that single color, it tends to leave you in awe because you perceive the components in their purest state. And the resulting impression – outwardly BOLD. But then again, what is subtle without chaos? What is light without dark? Although one may reign in the presence of the other, but one surely ceases to exist in the absence of the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that’s a perceptive thought.. to see the essence , the components in their purest state.
      the chaos and the subtle , that an interesting idea. thanks for writing pramod!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes..The simple is infinitely subtle and the subtle is always significantly graceful…and every design is gratified and graceful when one can able to know and design it for essentiality of need, considering feasibility and which finally makes the design dignified and pure..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. to see beauty and utility as the foundations of graceful or good architecture is the learning of centuries . than you for sharing your thoughts vamsidhar!


  5. Simple design is popular because simplicity looks mind blowingly good,and looking good is a really big deal.Are there other reasons for simple design?sure,but let’s face it,even though we can use complex coding to generate flashy ornamental designs,for some reason the simple designs always rise to the top.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes aishwarya, you are right about simplicity being more appreciated. but simplicity is not about the surface effect, it runs much deeper and is quite difficult to achieve. i would recommend you to read essays by frank lloyd wright on simplicity.


  6. I believe, to be subtlety in deign is most complex and expensive thing to implement than being bold and simple economic, The complex design process gives simple outputs and bold thoughts results subtle. and vice versa it depends on the context how exactly are we applying it.


  7. “Subtlety is about being bold enough to be simple”

    Although I agree to most of it, I still don’t think simple or bold are the words that need to be associated with subtlety. Simply because both simple and bold are time bound whereas subtlety is timeless.
    Subtlety is a matter of perception and mostly contextual.. For me subtlety in architecture in particular is a built form that is true to its surroundings. for example the Taj mahal  or falling waters are in no way simple to me yet always subtle the reason being the way it’s been designed in its context, im sure people thought of it as a very bold form of architecture but the way it’s been perceived over the years remains the same..had the surroundings around the taj changed into bazaars instead of the beautiful char Bagh’s I’m sure it wouldnt be called a subtle monument..


  8. So true, I strongly feel that humbleness must be cultivated in our personality which will naturally form a path for the reflection of modesty and subtlety in our designs. We all know that the most precious elements found in nature are only found in rarity. We can also take inspiration from nature, to boldly express our designs with subtlety.


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