Architecture Bubble Diagrams – How important are they?

Designing and conceptualizing a building is a long process. After the initial site and user analysis, one does not simply start off by making detailed plans.
Architecture bubble diagrams

Designing and conceptualizing a building is a long process. After the initial site and user analysis, one does not simply start off by making detailed plans. The first step is to figure out the program and their position concerning one another.

This is typically done through architecture bubble diagrams, which is a critical step during the conceptual design phase. In this article we aim to guide through the wonderful world of bubble diagrams, and discuss how to best utilize them in your own design process.

What is a bubble diagram in architecture?

As the name suggests, a bubble diagram is a basic drawing made up of various roughly shaped “bubbles”. Each of these bubbles represents a separate program that is to be incorporated into the space one is designing. The proximity of the bubbles represents the physical relationship between them. These bubbles may be drawn with different or the same colored markers/pens.

Many architects employ the use of various lines (solid, broken and wavy, etc) to specify the type of relationship between each of these bubbles. For example, a solid line between two bubbles represents a stronger link and proximity, whereas a dotted line is used for weaker links between spaces.

Arrows are also often employed to show the directionality or circulation within the spaces. The bubbles are graphical depictions of the programs in a building, with varying shapes and sizes depicting either their relative size or their hierarchical importance.

The principal objective of these bubble diagrams is to help architects translate their initial ideas into visual representations. These visuals often form the basic strategy that one might follow when creating an initial conceptual strategy.

The way these bubbles are placed, represent the user’s requirements and depicts which program positions would be most functional for that specific space.

Why do architects use bubble diagrams?

Architectural projects require a lot of attention to detail. Many minute factors need to be taken care of in order to make the project a success, and a lot of this detail is added after a careful analysis of the site and design brief.

When starting a new project, an architect needs to list these requirements and create simple graphical representations that will help in the design initiation. This is where bubble diagrams help. The entire premise of a bubble diagram is to help an architect translate the program requirements into a visual form which can later be refined and converted into a proper floor layout or a plan.

Since these diagrams are very simple and don’t take up a lot of time, it is very easy to create multiple iterations and make various changes.

Although all architects have their own specific work process, most of them utilize bubble diagrams to make the design process smoother and more manageable.

Pros of using bubble diagrams

Using bubble diagrams has a lot of plus points which has led to its constant relevance in the architectural field. Most architects, whether students or professionals, use these diagrams, and some of the advantages are listed below:

  1. Bubble diagrams are quick and save a lot of time. 
  2. They make it easy to initially categorize rooms/spaces on the basis of their privacy and circulation needs. 
  3. Due to their simplicity, you can make multiple iterations and they can act as a record of the design process. 
  4. They are a good visual representation of an architect’s initial idea regarding the space.
  5. Uncomplicated to understand and read, which makes it easy to discuss the initial plan with the client and record further changes.
  6. One can envision design without being bound by shape and size restraints.

Cons of using bubble diagrams

Although bubble diagrams are a great way to start visualizing your design, there are some downsides that we may face as well. Some of these are listed below:

  1. While bubble diagrams are great to initiate a design, they don’t convey any information about the actual design language of the space.
  2. Bubble diagrams are mostly never scaled and once the plans are drafted properly, many sizing and scaling problems arise.
  3. Shifting from bubble diagrams to a plan can be difficult for new designers.
  4. For designers who work on 3Ds alongside the programs, it gets difficult to visualize a proper physical form while working with bubble diagrams.

Having said that, the feasibility of bubble diagrams varies from architect to architect and greatly depends upon how one chooses to organize their workflow.

How to create a bubble diagram

One of the most convenient features of a bubble diagram is the fact that there are no hard and fast rules that you absolutely must adhere to when creating one. A bubble diagram is purely for the architect’s ease and one may use it however they see fit.

However, there are some general steps that one may follow in order to make a good diagram:

  1. The very first step is to list down all the programs (accommodation / spaces) that need to be incorporated into your plan. This is done after a thorough analysis of the site, user, and functional requirements. 
  2. Next is to determine the relative sizes. So assign each space a small, large, or medium size ( you can add other room sizes as well).
  3. Make an adjacency matrix that allows you to analyse which programs need to be placed together.
  4. Now start drawing circles (bubbles) and label them according to their assigned program. While drawing these bubbles keep in mind their relative size. You can assign different colors to each room if it helps your process.
  5. Place each bubble in a position you think would be best fitting for them. For example, a sunroom towards the south and a boot room close to an entrance.
  6. Once all of the accommodation in place, you can add lines and arrows to further elaborate the program’s relationship to each other. Add arrows to show the circulation and entrance/exit points.
  7. You can now place the bubble diagram on your site plan and make any changes according to the shape of the site boundary and potential building footprint. Many people choose to do this at the start i.e. they start their diagram directly on top of their site plan.
  8. Once you have made your first iteration, you can analyze it and create a new diagram that suggests some changes and improvements to the previous version. Keep repeating this until you are satisfied with the diagram.

While following these steps is recommended, it is not a requirement. For anyone looking to learn more about how to make digital bubble diagrams and use these graphics to design better, the below video has some excellent tips and advice.

Architecture bubble diagram examples

As mentioned above there is no one right way to make a good bubble diagram but for ease of understanding, we have provided a few examples of them below. You can use these as inspiration for your own diagrams and start the journey toward a more streamlined design process.

Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 1.1: Bubble Diagram and adjacency matrix from edgarmorenodesign 
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 2: Bubble diagram for JNC community center by Line and Space studio
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 2: Bubble diagram for JNC community center by Line and Space studio
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 3: Bubble diagram for EDUN Americas Inc. showroom by Spacesmith
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 4.2: Bubble diagram for Baton Rouge transit station by Kevin Plath
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 4.1: Bubble diagram for Baton Rouge transit station by Kevin Plath
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 5: Bubble diagram for art residence design by Team Shishka
Architecture bubble diagrams
Figure 5: Bubble diagram for art residence design by Team Shishka

So, are bubble diagrams necessary?

As discussed above, the viability of a bubble diagram depends on how the we as designers use it but it would not be right to say that these diagrams are a great tool to initiate your design process and visualize your concepts on paper. It is almost impossible to overstate the positive effects of bubble diagrams have on an architect’s design process.

Bubble diagrams allow architects to streamline their thought processes and get their thought processes in order, before formally drafting a plan. If used correctly, these diagrams can lead to a much faster and smoother road to conceptualizing and generating a building design.

So pick up that pencil and happy working!


Free Site Analysis Checklist

Site analysis forms the foundation to a project’s conceptual evolution …start it with confidence.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive a free Site Analysis and Site Visit Checklist.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Adam

    I think that architecture bubble diagrams are very important. They can help you to see the big picture and to see how different parts of the architecture work together.

Leave a Reply

As seen on:

The Architecture Portfolio Kit

Featured Posts:

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, just notifications about our new articles, products and updates.

Learn how to build an online portfolio

Architectural Imagery


We are a UK based architecture visualisation studio specialising in computer generated imagery of the un-built environment.