When designing a map, particularly of a building or dungeon, many designers naturally design to the game intent for the map. Usually, this is something like "I need a place for the PCs to go kill things and take their stuff". Wherever the place is, however, it's a fair bet that whoever in the game world designed the location had a much different set of goals in mind when they built the place. Maybe it was meant to be defensible, such as a fortress. Maybe it was meant to impress, such as a temple. Maybe it was meant to hold an audience, or be a private residence, or shape and focus magical energy, or bury the dead, or imprison a great evil.

Each of these purposes has different needs on the space and, consequently, use that space in particular ways. The way in which designers study and use a space falls in the realm of architecture, and learning the basics of that field can make your maps much better.

Architecture also can be used at the city level, whether the city is "designed" or has a more "organic" growth. For example, thinking about how the city functions for its inhabitants suggests things like "put the warehouses near the docks" to map designers. Even a simple question like "where does human waste go" can significantly inform map design.

This thread intends to collect advice on architectural thinking and links to decent architecture tutorials and introductions that can be of use to the map maker.

Here's an initial list of questions to get you thinking about how the fictional designers of the space you intend to map thought about it:

  • what technology was available to construct?
  • what materials were available to construct?
  • what knowledge did the architects and builders have at the time regarding its development and construction?
  • who was is built for?
  • what was popular at the time?
  • what constraints were in place at the time?
  • what function did it serve?
  • is its physical location a variable?
  • was security an issue?
  • did they consider environmental factors in its creation?
  • if you lived in that time and place, what would you need the building to achieve?
  • what parts are purely aesthetic?
  • which parts are purely functional?

Here's a few links as well:

Finding good introductions to architecture online proves to be challenging, because the term "architecture" has been appropriated by software, network, database and web designers, so much of what Google finds has nothing to do with buildings or design of a physical location. So, share 'em if you got 'em.