The Building Block of a Great Design… Parti explained.

My family is from a long line of teachers, but I did not follow in their footsteps and chose an architectural profession instead (although I have taught at several Boston colleges) … however one subject I want to educate clients on and mentor young designers in alike is the need for a parti in design. Webster’s definition of a parti is ‘the basic scheme or concept of an architectural design’, but I regard it as the essence by which all aspects of a project should hang. The belief that the difference between good design and great design for some is financial, schedule related, or form following function results: I measure a projects success on those things as well but additionally how the parti holds the entire story together from beginning to end.

Parti’s can be born out of rigger of a single idea such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “organic architecture –  prairie style” that kept all elements horizontal and flat to reflect the Midwest landscape. Another 20th century icon, Frank Gehry who is influenced by the SoCal art & architectural schools ‘spirit of experimentation’, as he connects unbridled forms made common building materials such as chain link, corrugated steel and expensive metal cladding like titanium finishes of choice the world over.

Parti diagrams are often the pen and paper communication tool that is driven by several factors; site conditions, spatial program requirements or a desired emotion that tells a projects story early in and throughout the design process: ultimately dictating the final outcome. Lines and geometry that thread motion (human or material), connecting elements of the space (i.e. a view or a collaborative area) and serve as a foundation block to make an ordinary function-able space: a designed place.  The parti can be refined over time but most often the initial raw creative seedling is like a first mark on a multiple choice test – the right answer to the question at hand.

Some examples of design parti’s on previous projects; explanation and the result:




Project: Raytheon Headquarters – Waltham Woods, Waltham MA

Raytheon’s invention of the microwave and the waves that it creates helped establish grids critical in making radar systems capable (first integrated in World War II) and make the everyday household a useful appliance.  The grid established the framework for the program creating the exterior ring and cross path corridors for the offices and workstation systems playing out in the finishes as well. The buildings central atrium and monumental stair are woven into the grid to provide a place to connect people. The result is the parti showcases a story of the company’s rich history and how new ideas can network the company’s future.




Project: Cengage Learning Headquarters – Boston (Fort Point Channel), MA

Cengage is a book and online publisher of materials for higher learning. The original buildout (for Course Technology) consisted of connecting three separate historical buildings through an informal geometry that advocated an all hands company culture. This provided a central collaborative core for reception-meeting team spaces and maintained quiet-heads down focus spaces beyond for content editors.



Cengage expanded into other neighborhood brick and beam, multi-level changing structures that raised the need for a corridor parti that stitched the six buildings together but was broken up by connecting a colonnade of collaborative spaces along the path: celebrating the company’s brand by floating each of the six trapezoids that form the Cengage asterix star logo as a cloud reception – meeting place maker. The result of the two projects parti’s is that each department and group is treated equally but are critical to complete the whole.

Parti’s serve as the anchor or design compass that can impact the largest decision and smallest detail communicates and establishes a projects direction. Done well; finances can be tempered to achieve the larger picture by allocating to the most important design features, schedule defined early by identifying challenges that support the framework, and form can follow function as a the parti story can make the project a true fiesta for all parties.

Posted on November 7, 2016 in Design, Education

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