Understanding and Applying Architectural Parti in Design

In architecture, the term “parti” refers to the central idea or concept of a building design. It’s essentially the starting point or organising thought that guides the design process. The parti can be a specific shape, a structural system, a key relationship in the layout, or any other defining aspect of the building’s design. It serves as a foundation upon which the rest of the project is built, ensuring consistency and coherence in the design.

For instance, in a housing development, the parti might be a central courtyard around which all rooms are organised. This idea then influences decisions about room placement, window orientation, and even material choices. The parti is not always a physical element; it can also be a philosophical or conceptual approach, such as prioritising sustainability or focusing on maximising natural light.

Understanding and defining the parti is a crucial step in the architectural design process as it helps architects maintain a clear vision and purpose throughout the project. It’s like setting the theme or storyline for the building, around which all other elements are woven to create a cohesive and meaningful design.


In this article we will explore one of the most foundational concepts in architectural design: the architecture parti. If you’re an architecture student, understanding this concept is crucial for your design journey. It’s the seed from which your design ideas will grow, shaping everything from the overall form to the minute details of your projects. In this post, we’ll delve into what an architecture parti is, why it’s essential, and how it forms the backbone of any architectural design.

Architectural parti 1

Definition of Architecture Parti


What is an Architecture Parti?

The term ‘parti’ comes from the French phrase ‘parti pris’, which means ‘to make a decision’. In architectural terms, it refers to the central idea, theme, or concept that becomes the driving force of a design. Think of it as the ‘big idea’ that gives direction to your architectural project. A parti can often be referred to as a concept. 

A parti can manifest in various forms. It might be a specific shape, like a circle or a grid, that dictates the layout of your building. Alternatively, it could be a conceptual approach, such as prioritising sustainability or focusing on the interaction between light and space. Regardless of its form, the parti sets the stage for all the decisions you’ll make in your design process. 

The parti is often presented in the form of a parti diagram, a parti sketch or a simple statement.


Historical Context

The concept of parti has been integral to architecture for centuries, guiding architects in creating coherent and purposeful designs. Historically, architects would base their designs on classical principles or geometric forms, which were considered as partis. As architectural styles evolved, so did the nature of partis, adapting to new materials, technologies, and societal needs.


Why is it Important?

For architecture students, grasping the concept of parti is crucial. It’s not just about creating a visually appealing design; it’s about informing your work with intention and meaning. A well-defined parti ensures that every element of your design is harmonious and purposeful, contributing to a cohesive whole.

In your studies and future professional practice, you’ll find that starting with a clear parti can simplify complex design challenges. It acts as a compass, guiding you when you’re faced with myriad design choices and possibilities.

Architectural Parti

The Role of Parti in Architectural Design


Understanding the role of parti in architectural design is essential for any architecture student. It’s the heart of the design process, guiding architects from the initial concept to the final structure. Here’s how parti plays a crucial role in shaping architectural designs:


Guiding Principle for Design Decisions

A parti acts as a guiding principle or a roadmap for your entire project. When you establish a clear architectural parti at the beginning of your design process, it becomes easier to make decisions about layout, materials, form, and function. Every choice you make should support and reflect back to your parti, ensuring a coherent and purposeful design.


Balancing Creativity and Functionality

In architecture, there’s a constant balance between aesthetic creativity and practical functionality. A parti helps in maintaining this balance. By having a central idea, you can explore creative solutions while ensuring that the building serves its intended purpose effectively. It acts as a check, preventing designs from becoming too abstract or impractical.


Responding to Site and Context

A good parti not only stems from the architect’s vision but also responds to the site and context of the building. It considers factors like the surrounding environment, local climate, historical context, and social dynamics. This response ensures that the building not only looks good but also fits seamlessly into its environment, enhancing both its usability and relevance.


Communicating the Concept

Parti is also a tool for communication. It allows you to explain the essence of your design succinctly to clients, colleagues, and the public. A clear parti makes it easier for others to understand the rationale behind your design choices, thereby facilitating better collaboration and feedback.


Unifying Diverse Elements

In complex projects, where multiple elements and stakeholders are involved, a parti becomes the unifying force. It ensures that different aspects of the project – be it structural engineering, interior design, or landscape architecture – all work towards a common goal. This unity is crucial for creating a building that is not just a collection of parts, but a coherent whole.


Evolving with the Design Process

While a parti provides direction, it’s not set in stone. As you progress through the design process, your parti may evolve. This flexibility is key to addressing new insights, challenges, or requirements that arise. The ability to adapt while staying true to the core concept is a mark of both a good parti and a skilled architect.

Understanding architectural parti

Developing a Parti in Design Projects


For architecture students, developing a parti can be both an exciting and daunting task. It’s about finding that unique concept that will guide your entire project. Here’s a step-by-step approach to help you develop a parti for your design projects:


Understand the Brief and Context

The first step is to thoroughly understand the brief and context of your project. What is the purpose of the building? Who will use it? What are the environmental, historical, and social factors of the site? Answering these questions will provide a foundation for your parti.


Conduct Research and Analysis

Research is key. Look into similar projects, architectural styles, and design theories. Analyse case studies to understand how other architects developed their partis. This research will not only inspire you but also help you identify what works and what doesn’t in different contexts.


Ideation and Conceptualisation

Start brainstorming and sketching ideas. Don’t limit yourself in this creative phase; explore various concepts, shapes, and themes. Think about how your design can respond to the site’s characteristics and the users’ needs. This is where your creativity plays a crucial role.


Refine Your Ideas

After brainstorming, begin to refine your ideas. Which concepts are most feasible, relevant, and inspiring? This step might involve creating more detailed sketches, discussing with peers or mentors, and considering practical aspects like materials and construction techniques.


Define Your Parti

Now, define your parti. It should be a clear, concise statement or visual representation that encapsulates the essence of your design. Remember, a good parti is both a guiding principle and a flexible concept that can adapt to changes throughout the design process.


Test and Adapt

Apply your parti to preliminary designs and see how it works. Does it help in making decisions? Does it respond well to the site and brief? Be prepared to adapt your parti as your design evolves. It’s a dynamic process that requires constant re-evaluation.


Communicate Your Parti

Finally, learn to communicate your parti effectively. Whether through drawings, models, or verbal presentations, being able to explain the concept behind your design is crucial. It’s not just about the visual aspect; it’s about conveying the idea and rationale behind your design decisions.


Developing a parti is a fundamental skill in architecture, one that you’ll refine throughout your studies and professional career. It’s a blend of creativity, research, and critical thinking. As you work on your projects, remember that a well-thought-out parti can transform a good design into a great one, imbuing your work with clarity, purpose, and vision. 


What is architecture parti

7 Practical Tips for Architecture Students


As you embark on your journey in architectural design, here are some practical tips to help you effectively incorporate the concept of parti into your projects:


  1. Keep it Simple

Start with simple ideas. A complex parti is not necessarily a better one. Sometimes, the most powerful partis are those that are straightforward and easily understandable.


  1. Sketch and Visualise

Use sketches and diagrams to visualise your parti. These tools can help you refine your concept and communicate it more effectively to others.


  1. Be Open to Inspiration

Inspiration can come from anywhere – nature, art, literature, technology, or even everyday life. Keep an open mind and be observant of the world around you.


  1. Collaborate and Seek Feedback

Discuss your parti with peers, tutors, and professionals. Feedback can provide new perspectives and help you refine your concept.


  1. Balance Creativity with Practicality

While creativity is essential, also consider the practical aspects of your design. A good parti should be innovative but also feasible and functional.


  1. Reflect on the Brief and Context

Regularly revisit the project brief and context. Ensure that your parti remains aligned with the client’s needs and the site’s characteristics.


  1. Be Flexible and Adaptable

Be prepared to evolve your parti as the project develops. Flexibility is key to responding to new challenges and insights.

7 Practical Tips for Architecture Students


Mastering the concept of parti is a crucial step in your development as an architect. It’s more than just a design tool; it’s a way of thinking that shapes how you approach architectural problems. A well-defined parti gives direction, ensures coherence, and imbues your work with deeper meaning.

As you progress in your architectural education and into your professional career, keep honing this skill. Experiment with different concepts, be open to learning, and don’t be afraid to challenge conventional ideas. Remember, the strength of a building’s design often lies in the clarity and creativity of its parti.

Recommended Reading

For architecture students looking to deepen their understanding of parti and architectural design principles, here are some recommended books and resources:


  1. “Architecture: Form, Space, and Order” by Francis D.K. Ching
    A classic text that provides a thorough introduction to the basic vocabulary of architectural design, with an emphasis on form and space, including the concept of parti.


  1. “101 Things I Learned in Architecture School” by Matthew Frederick
    This book offers concise, clear explanations of key architectural concepts, perfect for students. It’s an easy-to-digest guide that covers the essentials, including the development of design concepts.


  1. “Thinking Architecture” by Peter Zumthor
    Zumthor shares his perspective on what it means to create buildings that have an emotional connection and integrity. It’s a thought-provoking read that can inspire unique approaches to parti.


  1. “The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses” by Juhani Pallasmaa
    This book encourages architects to design with all senses in mind. It’s a great resource for understanding how sensory experiences can be a part of your parti.


  1. “Analysing Architecture” by Simon Unwin
    Unwin explores basic elements of architecture and how they play a role in a building’s design. The book is useful for understanding how to break down a parti into its components.


  1. “Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan” by Rem Koolhaas
    For those interested in urban design and planning, this book offers a unique look at New York City’s architecture. It’s insightful for understanding how parti can influence large-scale urban projects.


  1. Online Resources
    Websites like ArchDaily, Dezeen, and the Architectural Review offer articles, case studies, and project analyses that can provide current, real-world examples of parti in practice.


  1. Journals and Magazines
    Subscribing to architectural journals and magazines like ‘The Architectural Review’, ‘Architects’ Journal’, or ‘Building Design’ can keep you updated on contemporary issues and projects in architecture.


Remember, the best learning comes from a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical insights. These resources will give you a solid foundation in understanding architectural concepts and their application in real-world scenarios.


Written by Emma Walshaw, Architectural Technologist and founder of First In Architecture and Detail Library. Emma has written a number of books about construction and architectural detailing.

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