An architecture parti! Should I dress up? Bring a bottle of wine?
Probably not. A parti is a very different beast from a party. In short, it’s a diagram that shows the ‘big idea’ for a building, and producing one is an essential part of the design process.
But what exactly does it mean and involve, and where can you find examples of partis to help you understand their function better? We’re glad you asked. Read on.
What is an architecture parti?
In architecture, a parti is a design concept or organizing principle for a building. It should show, usually in the form of a clear and simple diagram, what your building is all about. A parti is produced in the early stages of the design process, before the plan, section and elevation.
What exactly does it mean to ‘show what a building is all about’?
It does not mean producing a vague conceptual statement of the type so often found on the walls of galleries, such as, ‘My work explores the relationship between new class identities and multimedia experience’ (text from this website, which generates fake but believable artist statements).
Nor does it mean a physical description of the building, such as, ‘This gym will be T-shaped’. Instead, it is helpful to think of a parti as an image that needs to combine and communicate your intention (e.g. ‘I am designing a house that three generations of a family can comfortably share’) and your strategy (e.g. ‘some areas will be communal and others more like separate ‘pods’’).
What does the term parti mean?
The term parti is a shortened form of parti pris, which is generally translated from French as ‘decision taken’ or ‘point of departure’. Parti is not heard as often within architecture as it once was; today, many people use the term concept instead, although this doesn’t have quite such a broad definition.
(As we saw above, a concept may not include an actual strategy.) Partis were first used in France’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts, an extremely prestigious university) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when architecture was still taught there.
Does parti pris mean the same thing as parti?
Parti pris is translated from fifteenth century French as ‘decision taken’ or ‘point of departure’. In contemporary French, parti pris can mean (as a noun) bias or (as an adjective) prejudiced, which clearly have negative connotations.
So the term should be used with some care, especially when interacting with French speakers!
What are the objectives of a parti?
One parti can look very different from another – some are sketches, some are more finished designs, some are even models – but what they have in common is embodying the defining characteristics of the building.
They show its organizational logic, i.e. what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. The best partis also communicate the ‘vibe’ of the space, i.e. what it might feel like to look at and use the building.
Architecture parti diagrams
What is a parti diagram in architecture?
Though it might be visually ‘sketchy’, a parti diagram is not an initial sketch; it should be considered, rather than scribbled in haste.
In fact, it should be the culmination of your thinking about what the building will be like based on all the information that’s currently available. The internet has a wealth of excellent resources on parti diagrams and in no particular order, a handful of our favorites are listed below:
This 20-minute video on popular YouTube channel Archimarathon analyses parti diagrams for the Marie Short House, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt and the Casa de Musica, Portugal, by Rem Koolhaas. The video is presented by Kevin Hui and Andrew Maynard in their usual laid-back and accessible style.
This video appears on a channel created by Rick Fairhurst, founder of Snowdrop – a startup focusing on building post-disaster and in poorer communities. In it, architect Kyle Murphy discusses the parti diagram for a community center in Monterrey, Mexico.
American architect Barry Berkus has a whopping 80k+ subscribers to his YouTube channel, and with good reason. In this short video, Berkus discusses the process he followed when producing a parti diagram for one of his own buildings, the Padaro Lane Residence in California.
For an unusual take on the parti diagram, take a look at this video by Dory Azar Architect Inc. In an attempt to come up with ‘more exciting ways to deliver [their] design concepts’, the architects explored stop motion animation as a medium.
The video lasts just 25 seconds, but we think it’s a great and innovative way to communicate a building’s ‘big idea’.
These short blog posts by M Gerwing Architects include examples and discussion of parti diagrams.
This article by product designer Melissa Mandelbaum, who originally trained as an architect, discusses the relationship between the two fields using the parti diagram as a hinge. Reading it is a great way to clarify your thinking on what parti diagrams are and aren’t by situating them in a broader design context.
Examples of parti diagrams
What are parti models?
A parti model is a three-dimensional version of a parti diagram. It is more commonly called a concept model these days, but as discussed in the section ‘What does the term parti mean?’ above, parti has a slightly broader definition than just ‘concept’.
Producing a parti, aka a ‘decision made’ diagram or model, is an essential part of the design process. It should be created before plans, sections and elevations, and distil your thinking up to that point in time.
The parti should also communicate your future intention and strategy, i.e. what you are trying to do with the building, and how you are going to do it. Though it sounds simple it can be hard to get a parti right, with the correct balance of theory and practicality.
However, finding your own balance by playing with ideas is half of the fun!