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 parti’s also communicate the ‘vibe’ of the space, i.e. what it might feel like to look at and use the building.
Whether it’s designing a house, a concert hall, or a campus, architects make many considerations within the early stages of the design process. Luckily, to manage all of the variables in a project, we have a tool that helps designers organize and convey their initial ideas: the parti diagram.
What is a parti diagram?
A parti diagram is a simple sketch that communicates the overall concept for a design project. It can represent different components of the site, such as circulation, program, massing, spatial hierarchy, form, wind, light, etc.
Furthermore, a parti diagram isn’t a drawing of what a space or building may look like after being built. Instead, it helps spatially organize and graphically depict the aforementioned variables.
For example, how people will navigate around the site from one program to another. When designing something like a sports stadium, it would be important to layout the surrounding roads, parking spaces, main entrances, employee entrances, etc.
Why are parti diagrams important?
The parti diagram is critical to an architect’s design process. This tool helps convey ideas, especially in the early stages, but it is not uncommon for these sketches to be used as a reference during the later phases of a project.
As an architecture student, the parti diagram will be useful in communicating your ideas for an assignment to professors, critics, and peers. This will allow others to understand your initial plan for the project and provide feedback. For example, a professor may advise you to divide a space for greater circulation or add a bathroom between two programs.
Whether you’re a practicing architect or getting your education, visualizing your concept can contribute to developing a successful project. The later design stages only get more complex, so having a simple plan can help organize the basic principles of your concept.
If you want to see parti diagrams of actual buildings, check out this incredible video by Archimarathon (below). In one example, they describe the massing of a music hall and how the surrounding buildings contributed to the placement of different auditorium spaces.
What to consider
When drawing your parti diagram, it’s important to decide what you want to highlight, whether it’s circulation, massing, regulating lines, etc. Then, utilize thicker line weights or darker colors to point them out.
This hierarchy will allow others to understand the logic behind your initial ideas. – lets disuss some examples:
Types of parti diagrams
Parti diagrams are not a single mode of representation. Rather, there are different types of parti depending on what you want to showcase.
The first parti diagram, form-based, represents geometries, scale, context, and structure in the project. Moreover, an example would be drawing shapes to indicate the site boundaries, the layout of the plan, and the massing of structures.
After sketching, you can start to form relationships between the site’s layout, its surroundings, and where buildings may be placed.
Contrary to form-based, flow-based parti diagrams express anything with direction and a path. This is useful when communicating the circulation of the project’s users, views, light, program, and ventilation.
Mapping out the sun’s direction and path along the site can later be used to inform the placement of windows in a building. Similarly, drawing out the location of key views along a site can contribute to where to create exterior spaces.
The next parti diagram helps convey quantitative data that direct the project. This is helpful when considering the site’s conditions or factors like cost and time.
Therefore, a dimensioned parti can be a sketch outlining the distance of key components of the project, like trees that can’t be cut down. In tandem, a dimensioned-based parti can be a graph that plans out the progression of the project.
Plan and section
Another set of parti diagrams, plan and section, is used to describe the division of spaces in your project. A plan looks downwards on the site while the section cuts through an elevation.
In addition, while detailed plans and sections are developed later in a project, the parti diagrams are just used to arrange the general spaces. A plan or section parti can also be used to order the placement of structural elements like walls.
Parti diagrams can also take the form of 3-dimensional views. Axonometric or perspective drawings can be useful for communicating the massing of buildings in your project. For example, sketching a short volume for a library by a tall form for the next-door office tower. This would represent the scale and visual hierarchy between the two structures.
3D diagrams can also be a depiction of your idea for the user experience. This entails the relationship between the buildings and a person experiencing them. For example, drawing a large volume for a religious center that’s supposed to make the user feel small or roughly outlining a playground area along the side of an apartment complex.
For tips on making great perspective drawings, check out this studio guide.
Usually, architects develop a sequence of ideas when generating their design. To project their concept and logic, a narrative parti is suitable. For example, when designing a beach house, you may take inspiration from the nearby waves. After observing their geometry and pattern, you can translate a similar language into the shaping of your spaces, circulation, or massing.
To represent this process in a narrative parti, make a series of drawings of what’s driving the decision-making, how it relates to your project, and how it contributes to the development of your ideas.
Some great examples can be seen by Bjarke Ingels Group. In their below scheme the “W57 project”, they effectively convey how the surrounding streets, views of the river, and direction of the sun contributed to the massing and spatial arrangement of the structure.
Though some might be visually ‘sketchy’, a parti diagram is not an initial sketch; it should be considered, rather than scribbled in haste.
Utilizing parti diagrams can help organize and communicate your initial ideas. Whether you’re a professional or a student, these sketches are effective in developing a system of logic around the design of your project.
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, here are a handful of our favorites are listed below:
Parti diagram resources
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.
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!