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parti diagramming, DIY Like an Architect

Architecture class at ArtCenter’s Saturday High: week two. In the first workshop we learned how to approach a project by means of mind mapping and collaging — steps 1& 2 of DIY Like an Architect method.  Today my creative teens are parti diagramming.

To warm up, we start with a collective mind map I AM A GOOD DESIGNER. The idea is to boost their self-confidence. Further self-discovery is the prize. We talk about “incubating” or alternating work and rest and “meditating” or using senses to explore. To be a good designer, you have to:

1. listen to own intuition
2. embrace paradox of opposites
3. keep an open mind
4. devote considerable energy

When I mention that Leonardo da Vinci explored beauty by studying “ugly” people, they giggle. I insist that it’s critical to endure the ambiguity of the creative process. Some of them nod slightly when I say that there are no right answers.

Next, everyone presents their mind maps and collages from last week. In summary, they are to describe it all with one word. That word might become their parti (step 3), the one bold idea to define the work yet to come. The object is to devise a frame of reference in advance of confronting a blank piece of paper.

parti diagramming, DIY Like an Architect

parti diagramming

At this point, a parti is just a hunch; we need to thoroughly understand what it stands for. The process of parti diagramming (steps 4 and 5), is designed to help define it. I draw a few examples of 2-D diagrams on the board demonstrating that the concept is already familiar — we see diagrams everywhere.

2-D parti diagram is a parti expressed graphically with a basic pictogram, the most primitive and legible way of communicating the essence of a project. The trick is to make it clear at a glance with no explanation required. 3-D parti diagram is a parti expressed volumetrically as a loose massing model of the concept.

My creative teens are still brainstorming, not yet designing. The goal is to chart the direction by focusing purely on the theme. It is the time for revelations, for a chance to strip it all down. I remind everyone that as good designers (from our earlier discussion) we need to challenge our habitual thinking. It is the time to immerse and go with the gut.

parti diagramming, DIY Like an Architect

3-d parti diagramming

For 3-D parti diagramming, I brought a heap of model-building materials collected over time. There is a recycling basket in my laundry room where various odds and ends from packaging, etc. accumulate.  Every once in a while, I replenish my supply of wood scraps by visiting the House of Hardwood.

Ideal model supplies for this exercise are:

  • paper towel cardboard carcasses and egg containers, bottle lids, etc.
  • balsa wood, wood blocks, twigs, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, etc.
  • pieces of string, wire, fabric, scraps of construction paper, buttons, small shells, etc.

However, my creative teens are not learning how to build architectural models at this point, not just yet. We are parti diagramming. It’s very abstract and free rather than precise. I walk around the classroom, nudging, provoking. I am also encouraging and making each one feel at ease, thus furthering creative powers.


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