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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Building Diagrams

I've always found the gulf between architect and end user most fascinating, particularly the legibility of architectural production (plans, elevations, sections, details, sketches, models, perspectives, renderings, etc.) by -- for lack of a better term -- laypeople. It goes without saying that much of that produced by the former is not fully grasped by the latter, in terms of how a set of drawings, for example, will translate into a building. Models and renderings attempt to bridge this gulf of understanding, but in some cases diagrams done after a building's completion can prove even more helpful.

These post-occupancy aids may be done for publication, though more often than not they are done for public buildings (museums, libraries, etc.) as wayfinding devices, given to visitors to help orient themselves in space. The effectiveness, and apparent legibility, of such devices makes me wonder if architects could benefit from them in some way, by not only using them as aids in the design process, but as tools for influencing design. Why not start with the diagram and work back to the plan, section, elevation, and perspective? Silly speculation, most likely, but one that made me take a look at some recent buildings (museums mainly) and see how diagrams present the final building to visitors, the laypeople architects depend on but sometimes forget about during architectural production.

Below is a sampling of what I found, with some broad categorizations on how the diagrams increase legibility.

The color-coded plan:
[The Akron Art Museum in Akron, Ohio by Coop Himmelb(l)au | image source (PDF link)]

[The Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio by SANAA | image source (PDF link)]

[The Bloch Building of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri by Steven Holl Architects | image source (PDF link)]

The solid-void plan:
[The Royal Ontario Art Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canady by Studio Daniel Libeskind | image source (PDF link)]

The invisible envelope:
[The Jewish Museum Berlin in Berlin, Germany by Studio Daniel Libeskind | image source (PDF link)]

The simplified section:
[The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, Illinois by Krueck + Sexton Architects | image source]

[The Central Library of the Seattle Public Library in Seattle, Washington by Office for Metropolitan Architecture | image source (PDF link)]

The exploded axonometric:
[The deYoung Museum in San Francisco, California by Herzog & de Meuron | image source (PDF link)]

[The Museum of Modern Art in New York City by (most recently) Yoshio Taniguchi | image source (PDF link)]

and (with Flash interactivity):
[The Tate Modern in London, England by Herzog & de Meuron | image source]


  1. My personal favorite... the McCormick Campus Center by OMA.

    1. i wonder what kind of software you guys used to created the diagrams

    2. I know this is an old comment on an old article, but that map you posted there is just what I was looking for for inspiration. Thanks!

  2. I think you meant this one:


  3. I think it is safe to say many, perhaps most, architects do start the way you suggest. The "Programists" believe that is the only way to make a high functioning building. It is the diagram that rules all modernism and continues to lead the way for much of the interesting design in our world.

    good site.

  4. The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, was eventually redubbed the "BUTT" (building under the tube) by the iit students.

  5. Man, I just found your site. I like it a lot. I've been looking for building schematics for inspiration. I'm looking to build a 3D Building and put it in a scene of some sort. Thanks for the schematics. Btw, I've subscribed to your site! THX!

  6. Like others have sayed, many of the first drawings of a project are like this but in a sketch stage and we "architects" have now many ways to do conceptual sketchs.

    In the past, architects did this diagrams just with a pencil or with a model.

    The first architects that made conceptual sketchs like art were like peter eisemen, frank gery and zaha hadid that now take advantage of the new hi tech possibilities.

    (sorry about my english)

  7. more and more diagrams


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