Visual communication is what bridges the gap between architectural concepts and the general population. In architecture, parti diagrams are one of the best forms of visual communication, and they can play an integral role in conveying the big ideas of a project.
If you’re curious about what goes into these diagrams, and how to make them yourself …keep reading!
What is a parti diagram?
When it comes to design, there is always more than what meets the eye. Architects often infuse buildings with different functions and symbolism’s that may not be evident in the final form. Similarly, with all that goes into making a building, the final product rarely reveals the process behind it. This is where parti diagrams come in.
How is it used?
As a starting point
Parti diagrams can be made as an initial reaction to the site, to map out the first thoughts for a design based on the project’s unique site conditions, building program, and context.
This is an architect’s opportunity to apply theories to the project. Theories such as “blurring the lines between interior and exterior,” or “facilitating interaction and collaboration” are some examples of concepts that can be shown in a parti.
For design thinking
These diagrams can also be used during the design process to explore ideas, try out different schemes, integrate various concepts and experiment with design options without the need for more precise drawings.
A parti can simulate how certain factors behave on site, such as wind passing through the structure, or the sun interacting with different orientations. Using these diagrams as tools for design thinking allows architects to test out ideas long before detailed design development commences.
As a presentation tool
The simplicity of parti diagrams makes them ideal tools for presentation. They are often used to communicate ideas to the target audience in a manner that is clear and easy to understand. This can be for clients, professors, colleagues, or the general public.
The versatility of a parti also makes it applicable for multiple mediums, including sketches, slideshows, printed boards, or even videos.
To market a design
Large projects always involve extensive dialogue between architects and stakeholders to arrive at the final design. However, the eventual users of the project are rarely included in the process.
Because of this, marketing material for prospective customers often requires some explanation to highlight the benefits and key elements of the design. Parti diagrams can help developers market a design to buyers, tenants, and investors to help them understand why a design turned out a certain way.
One great example of this is The Interlace housing project in Singapore. OMA and Ole Scheeren made use of simple parti diagrams and audio-visual explanations to communicate the background and benefits of the complex’s unique design.
Their visuals showed how the stacked, arrayed building blocks achieved the desired density while also multiplying the available green space. With such visuals, the project was received with overwhelmingly positive sentiment from the community, and the abstract structure is now a thriving development with over a thousand apartment units.
Why are parti diagrams important?
Architectural designers put a lot of thought into every aspect of their projects. Many of these considerations are tucked into the invisible character of a building. Parti diagrams provide some insight into the thought process behind each design.
They can be useful at every stage of a building’s lifespan, to communicate the defining features of a project.
From the very beginning, a parti can be created as a roadmap for further development, as the design is refined into precise plans and realistic renderings. They can be used to break down complex ideas, converting them into graphics that are easy on the eyes and quick to understand.
Parti diagrams can be instrumental in explaining the true design intent of a project. Informing people of the purpose and meaning of a design allows it to be maximized and fully appreciated. Beyond the often cliche, flowery words of a concept statement, parti diagrams offer a more grounded, visual approach.
Types of parti diagrams
As parti diagrams are used for all kinds of concepts, there are many different types that can be used to best suit your project. In some cases, a project can make use of multiple parti diagrams to communicate various aspects of the design.
The first type of parti diagrams are form-based. These are used to indicate the rationale behind the physical attributes of the building. This can include functional divisions, symbolic meaning, forms with cultural significance, or masses that adapt to the site’s surrounding context.
Form-based partis deal with scale, proportion, space, and the unique conditions of the site. They are often represented by massing or simple geometry.
Flow-based parti diagrams illustrate different elements of user experience in a building. This can include circulation, direction, visual corridors, light, and ventilation. To show the ‘flow’, various kinds of lines, arrows, colors, and patterns can be added.
Parti diagrams based on dimensions are often used to show the limits and restraints of a building. These numerical values provide a look into the quantitative decisions made to comply with building codes, site conditions, and project goals.
For example, a parti diagram can show a site in four parts; one with an empty lot and site dimensions, one showing the depth of setbacks, the next showing the area allotted for parking, and the final showing the remaining space for the building footprint.
Plan and section
A parti can also serve as a prequel to a standard view, like a plan or section. Plan view parti diagrams are the most common form of parti, originating from a simple sketch of the proposed layout. They show the key elements that influence the spatial arrangement of the building. Section partis can also show the spatial arrangement of a building, including the vertical relationships of rooms, corridors, and open areas.
3D parti diagrams provide a better sense of size and scale for the audience. The most common 3D views are axonometric and perspective drawings.
These are often made as a sketch or illustration, but they can also be created with digital 3D models or BIM files. Some designs could even benefit from actual 3D models, known as parti models, crafted from physical materials to show the big ideas in real form.
Animated parti diagrams are less common, but they are gradually becoming more popular with advancements in software and computing power. Unlike a static parti on paper, these diagrams are presented with animated elements to deliver a more informational and engaging visual to the audience.
With animation, a diagram can show sequence, transformation, and an in-depth explanation of ideas using overlaid drawings, transitioning images, or motion graphics. They can come in the form of videos, slide shows, or gifs, and can be accompanied by audio or speech for on-screen presentations.
Design inspiration can come from a myriad of places. In many cases, there is a long story behind the development of the final design. Narrative parti diagrams are used to tell these stories.
Narratives can explain the underlying purpose and progression behind the design. They can also explain the cause that the design seeks to address, such as social justice, cultural impact, encouraging change, or facilitating interaction.
A good example of this is the Embassy of Finland building in Canberra, Australia. The embassy design is inspired by a ship, but it is built entirely transparent as a testament to the transparency of the government and its philosophies. From the outside, visitors can see all the way into the offices, and the facilities are designed to conceal as little as possible, with nothing to hide.
Elements of parti diagrams
Line – A line can be straight, curved, continuous, or varied. Lines can be used to represent edges, connect labels, or map out movement.
Point – Points are shown as dots or small filled marks on the drawing. They can be used to indicate places, positions, or patterns in the diagram.
Arrow – Often accompanied by a line or a wide tail, arrows are used to point at or in the direction of different aspects of the design. They can be narrow and solid, or wide, colorful, and dynamic, such as in wind diagrams.
Form – A form in a parti refers to a shape or object depicted in the diagram. They are usually placed to represent physical forms of the building or its surroundings. For practice, you can try sketching a sample parti of Chicago’s iconic Cloud Gate sculpture.
The bean-like public artwork sitting at the center of Millenium Park is a great way to practice capturing form with people, buildings, and open space.
Implied Form – Implied form is when the drawing doesn’t explicitly show a form, but gives the impression that a form is there.
For example, if you draw a crowd of people standing around an empty square, with more people along the edges of the square, the drawing will imply the presence of a square-shaped form or object.
Color – Parti diagrams can be monochromatic black and white, but they often make use of different colors for accent and emphasis, or to differentiate elements. Color can also add context for things like green grass and vegetation.
Pattern – Textures and materials can be shown in the diagram through different patterns. This is especially helpful when multiple planes overlap or intersect, and the only way to define or differentiate them is by showing their difference in material finishes.
Patterns can also be used to indicate changes in area or function.
Connection – Connection is when two or more elements come together. This can be used to show spatial and physical relationships.
Contrast – Contrast occurs when related elements have strong differences in color, pattern, or form.
Groups – A group refers to a number of elements that are together, but don’t necessarily connect with one another. Elements can be viewed as groups if they have similarities in color, pattern, line type, proximity, or orientation.
Sequencing – When a parti diagram shows progression from one form to another, the operation is known as sequencing. Sequences are typically shown in order, and they are often arranged horizontally, vertically, or in converging directions when multiple transformations take place.
Mapping – Mapping is used to highlight movement or pathways in the project. This can be for human movement, vehicular traffic, air, light, or something else entirely. It can also be used to analyze the behavior of specific users throughout a building.
Direction – Buildings are designed to guide users to certain places, and these directions can be shown in parti diagrams. When direction plays a key factor in the decision making process, it can lead to more fluid movement and hassle-free wayfinding in the final design.
Line variation – Lines can be varied by subtle changes that have a big impact on legibility. The most common forms of line variation are line weight, line type, and color. Line weight refers to the thickness or boldness of lines, while line type refers to the consistency or pattern. Popular line types include continuous (solid), dashed, dotted, and phantom lines.
Addition – Addition is when elements are added to the original composition. This is often used to illustrate the buildup of massing through different phases of site planning.
Subtraction – Subtraction occurs when elements are removed from the original composition. Subtraction can be used to create voids, openings, or implied forms.
Union – A union is a combination of elements by way of intersection, attachment, proximity, or overlap. Unions are perceived as unified wholes, often having many elements of similar size, shape, or color.
Array – An array refers to multiple elements with similar attributes arranged in an orderly manner. Arrays are often done in linear or radial arrangements.
Offset – Offsets are used to make similar elements slightly adjusted from the original. The offset elements can be made in any direction, often with consistent distances and parallel lines.
How to make a parti diagram
Evaluating your project is the first step to creating a parti diagram. Before making the visuals, you’ll need to think about your project’s unique requirements.
Especially when the project is in its earliest stages, a thorough analysis is necessary to fully understand the task at hand. It’s important to remember that parti diagrams are not just for selling ideas, they’re useful for developing them as well.
Choose a primary concept
The next step is to choose a major concept to serve as the foundation of your design. You can have more than one concept, or a combination of many, but a primary idea can help you get started with the diagram graphics.
Develop the fundamental idea(s)
Develop the ideas of the concept in the context of your project. During this time, your initial design strategies will start to take shape. This is a crucial step in the design process as you apply theories and philosophies to real-world scenarios.
Explore different approaches
Once you have a fully developed concept, it can be helpful to sketch out different ways of showing it to determine the best visual approach for the parti. This is to make sure the ideas are showcased as effectively as possible, and to avoid making diagrams that won’t be used in the future.
Keep it simple
As you refine the drawing, it can be easy to get carried away adding details and information. But for parti diagrams, it’s pertinent that you keep it simple. Break down the ideas to their most basic forms, and develop them up from there. Remember that a parti diagram is not necessarily a preview of the final product, it is merely a tool to illustrate the ideas and character of a building.
Buildings are made from a thorough design process that considers all aspects necessary for project success. Oftentimes, certain considerations stand out as the primary goals for the development. Architects use parti diagrams to illustrate their most important ideas for a design.
These diagrams are simple and informative visuals designed to communicate the core concepts of the project.
Similar to an elevator pitch, parti diagrams benefit from being clear, concise, and easy to understand. When words can’t tell the whole story, these visuals are used to fill the mental gaps of imagination.