Diagram as Design Tool

‘Diagram’ is one of the most used words in architecture and urban design. There is always the thought, “We need some diagrams to explain the idea.” As one usually says, “If we draw the parti-diagram, we can show it as there two parts.”, diagram is seen as a tool to deliver an idea. However, it is more than simply showing the client, the public, or the boss to help the, understand the idea. It is an element of design in itself.

Depending on the wellness of the organization of the diagrams, they can become the ideas that perfectly visualize the context of the site. For example, Rem Koolhaas’ Seattle Library’s massing was the product of the program diagram derived from the reinterpretation of change in program due to change in time. We can also often see the diagram being the initial concept as well as the final product like Zainie Zainul’s winning proposal of Shinkenchiku Residential Competition: Another Glass House in 1991 where Tadao Ando was the judge.

Although there are moments of unclear boundaries with a sketch or a concept model, I think a diagram is more of an intended expression coming from the head than a result that is created by new ideas coming from experiments that happen within unconsciousness of the fingertips. Although there are various ways to express ideas, such as physical model, sketch, cartoon, computer model, or photography, a diagram takes the initial step to become a design too; by its ability to deliver the idea very clearly and precisely in minimal form. Therefore, like the final design product, architect’s unique style of creativity is an important factor in the diagram as well. The finished form of architecture is a space that is felt and remembered without any special descriptions or diagrams, and some that leaves behind sentimentality is impossible to be explained by diagrams. Also, there is no guarantee that people will read and remember the architecture by the exact intentions expressed by the diagrams. The master architects may not need diagrams to create their masterpiece – they have their hands and sense. However, the society is becoming more complex. There is an increase in information and desires of the city, where architecture is the design subject. With broad issues including material, environment, ecology, and behavior, clear diagram becomes more important within today. This applies especially to the young architects yet to be stable and I, as well, have my architectural mind into diagrammatic form in order to communicate more clearly within the design process and also to develop the design itself.

In Korean architecture field, it seems there are two different attitudes among young architects. Some architects are not using diagram consciously but trying to communicate with only drawings and completed space. Architects in the other side are strongly using diagram strategically in all phase of design. I believe all of those two attitudes are good resolution for the future of Korean architecture if they have strong identities without just following trend.

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11 Responses to Diagram as Design Tool

  1. admin says:

    hihihi79 (2010.07.12)
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    After reading this page, i agree your opinion. i am working architecture currently, however my company is follow trend. public people need for us architecture trend. so i confuse. how is that?

  2. admin says:

    sjyoon081 (2010.07.14)
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    Coming from a school where the instructors always emphasize the importance of diagrams, I strongly agree with you. In many cases, a simple diagram is so much more effective than many words in communication.

  3. admin says:

    techarch (2010.07.14)
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    Thank you for your comment, hihihi72. We really need to look at what the trend is. Usually, that is not from public but from us, architects. This profession has been struggling between the trend and architect intention.

  4. admin says:

    techarch (2010.07.14)
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    sjyoon081, when I have very coplicated idea, it is usually helpful to draw simple diagram. Simpler is more!

  5. admin says:

    yujoong (2010.07.17)
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    Great article, techarch. I agree with many of the points you make regarding the significance of the ‘diagram.’ Joshua Prince-Ramus, project architect behind the Seattle Public Library, labels their process of using the diagram as being ‘hyperrationalism’ – which to me implies a process of organization – both spatial and programmatic. This is essentially the creation of a spatial system, which, in the context of metropolitan Seoul, is a crucial tool. Like many large cities, the physical organization of Seoul has a great deal of remnants from the historical fabric of Seoul. In a city changing as rapidly as Seoul (both culturally and physically) the diagram becomes particularly critical in better understanding context – something easily left behind with trend following designs.

  6. admin says:

    techarch (2010.07.18)
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    yujoong, Thank you. I agree. I want to see unique diagram for representing Seoul context.

  7. admin says:

    sunhyung_kim (2010.07.18)
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    Thanks for your insightful article.
    Based on your thought, these are the benefits of diagram in our discipline that I could think of so far.
    1. Facilitate architect’s communication skill with public; translate architectural concept into the common language that allows non-major people to get the general idea of a project.
    2. Likewise with superimposing of many layers of a tracing paper, diagram could be like a diary of a project showing the evolution of the project, which enables architects to incorporate all the design steps he’s been through, into the finalized one simply by looking back the diagrams.
    3. Help architects with handling many different kinds of information in a concise way. Especially, it’s quite useful in this age when people are forced to deal with a massive amount of information.

    On the other hand, I feel like some people are overutilizing diagrams to post-rationalize their concept or manipulate the context in accordance with their design. I think it is analogous to documentary film making. A documentary film is technically based on “facts” but it can become a totally different story according to the director’s montage. Since obviously, architects can show the information, which is “context”, that only they want to show, truth can be easily distorted.

    In this sense, number 4 could be,

    4. “Contextualizing the context” out of diagrams.

  8. admin says:

    techarch (2010.07.21)
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    sunhyung_kim, your point 3 and 4 are important things in this issue. Frankly and practically, many architects draw diagrams after form making to rationalize their idea. Personally I like to use sketches which are drawn in the design process as diagrams for the final presentation. That means, we need to think communication matter even if we draw just progress sketch.

    I also think that the term, ‘context’ is already in the architect’s intention.

  9. admin says:

    dlee (2010.08.04)
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    I agree the meaning of “context” in the previous conversations. With survey, architects are usually taking the facts which they want to emphasize. When they talk about context, architects are usually talking with their intension. So, architectural context can be biased.

    And about the diagrams, I think, as one of the unique features which are explaining space without referring the exact space, it needs to be “super” clear. That is because it is not just art piece for exhibition but intended drawing to convey specific meanings. In many case, if it has room to be misinterpreted and misunderstood, I think, it is better having concrete presentation materials rather than vague diagram.

  10. admin says:

    sunhyung_kim (2010.08.12)
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    techarch, I like your approach regarding sketches as a diagram, which is like an unprocessed diamond, a gemstone of thought.

    A few years ago, I happened to get a photocopy of “Seung Hong Park”‘s sketchbook. There were a ton of sketches when he was designing the Natioinal Gallery of Korea. Every single sketch was representing his thought and idea as a pure diagram. Every single sketch was extremely organized and clean. For me, it was a valuable opportunity to take a look at the inside of an architect’s brain.

    Also, whenever I see Carlo Scarpa’s project, I’m amazed by his plan drawing, which includes MANY MANY sketches encompassing “ALL” ranging from a single screw to bird’s eye view perspective.

  11. admin says:

    techarch (2010.09.09)
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    Sorry for late reply.

    dlee, diagram is the tool of communication as well as design. As you said, “Super” clear is the heart of diagram for clear communication and clear design.

    sunhyung_kim, I also like their sketches. I hope to see that architect’s intention is perpectly communicated through macro scale diagram to micro one in all phase of architecture.

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