The built form emerges from the client problem analysis, the site parameters and the energy determinants of form and material. These are the crucial first steps towards a successful design approach. It amounts to a deep investigation of the site itself, its urban context and energy potential long before any formal design concepts are developed. A successful and meaningful form speaks to its intent, message and use in an examination of the client's needs that's more akin to diagnostics than presumed solutions. A formal solution then arises from this dialogue.
This is time and research that goes into the very preliminary start of a project or a solution (which isn't necessarily a building!). It examines all the myriad factors that provide the client with the tools to include the things that solve their issues within their budget, or resources. Do we build? Do we expand or contract in the physical realm? Do we use digital resources and human resources to solve our issues? Are we in the right place? Where shall we go to improve our business or service? Do we have the resources to accomplish what we need? Are we organized in a way that lets us streamline or miniaturize our working environment?
Form emergence from the site is described very well by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture: "There’s a subtext to this whole thing. This is a counter proposal to the age of instant image making. We come to the images slowly; it’s a reveal. It's figuring out the qualities of the building before we make something that looks like a building. We have to understand what the building is about." Another architect, Steven Holl, designs structures that rise above any predictable style. They are instead inspired by a unique contextual awareness. His ability to masterfully blend space and light in subtle forms has turned him into a central figure in the discussion of contemporary sustainable design. This process is similar to that of an environmental artist, Robert Irwin, who does extensive site development of minimal expression generated from interacting with the site in form and light.
The use of energy in the built environment is about to undergo a transformation as the old oil economy swiftly transforms to clean energy sources under the auspices of COP21 in December 2015. This isn't a new strategy, but rather the evolution of design grounded in natural processes. A classic book on this, Form Follows Nature: A History of Nature as Model for Design in Engineering, Architecture and Art, provides an insight to this practice of maximizing the potential of natural processes in place.
Going further into the reuse and revitalization of existing lands and open spaces throughout our environment suggests that sustainable approaches are carried out through repurposing and recycling rather than expansion into natural environments. These efforts are becoming far more sophisticated and focused on stewardship as opposed to pure profit. This shifts the emphasis of the built environment into a very efficient congruency with natural forces that brings the expense and future costs way down. Storm Cunningham provides an example of this revitalization strategy.
A more detailed example of process, assisted with digital analysis in the later stages, is here in this website.