Diagramming the Big Idea: Methods for Architectural Composition (Paperback) book cover

Diagramming the Big Idea

Methods for Architectural Composition

By Jeffrey Balmer, Michael T. Swisher

© 2013 – Routledge

242 pages

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About the Book

As a beginning design student, you need to learn to think like a designer, to visualize ideas and concepts, as well as objects. In Diagramming the Big Idea, Jeffrey Balmer and Michael T. Swisher illustrate how you can create and use diagrams to clarify your understanding of both particular projects and organizing principles and ideas. With accessible, step-by-step exercises that interweave diagrams, drawings and virtual models, the authors clearly show you how to compose meaningful and useful diagrams.

As you follow the development of the four project groups drawn from the authors’ teaching, you will become familiar with architectural composition concepts such as proportion, site, form, hierarchy and spatial construction. In addition, description and demonstration essays extend concepts to show you more examples of the methods used in the projects. Whether preparing for a desk critique, or any time when a fundamental insight can help to resolve a design problem, this book is your essential studio resource.


"The book is expansive but deep – indeed, even tenacious - in its treatment of architectural composition. As a result, it is an ideal textbook for students and a perfect resource for enlightened practitioners."Jim Sullivan, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, Louisiana State University, USA

"This book offers logical and concise discussions on basic design thinking and provides succinct demonstrations on the fundamentals of diagramming in a manner useful for both students and instructors. Armed with this book as a guide and a reference, beginning design students will have an easier time producing thoughtfully practiced diagrams aimed at clarifying architecture." – William T. Willoughby, Professor of Architecture and Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts, Louisiana Tech University, USA

"This book is excellent for students and those interested in composition and architectural design. It allows readers to understand the diagramming process, techniques and their use. The many examples and descriptions in this book provide the foundations for becoming more design oriented while at the same time helping to provide alternate ideas and possibilities for including them into their own designs. The inclusion of a glossary of terms in each section is very helpful for keeping readers on track with the written material and the principles expressed. There is a lot of material to absorb here, and readers will likely find this book acting as a reference because of the wealth of practice and knowledge within it." Jeff Thurston, Editor, 3D Visualization World Magazine, Germany

"This is a charmingly disarming primer on the drawn line. Maybe it's the duplicator machine quality of the photos, its reliance on the orthogonal line, or the way it bursts into primary colour at the end…whatever, you might want this curio lining your bookshelf." – Jan-Carlos Kucharek, RIBA Journal, UK

"[…] provocative and engaging […] Balmer and Swisher make a clear case that rigor in conceptual organization, and the resulting spatial order, instantiates buildings that are efficient and evocative—that solve problems while engaging us. This change gets only more urgent as functional demands grow and as our tools to process information become exponentially more powerful." –Thomas Leslie, Pickard Chilton Professor in Architecture, Iowa State University, USA. Journal of Architectural Education.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Foreword 1. Introduction 1.1 Read Me First! 1.2 What is Architecture? 1.3 Organization, Order, Composition 1.4 Utility, Function, Purpose 1.5 Measure, Matter, Method 1.6 Design and Method 1.7 Method and Methodology 1.8 How This Book Works 1.9 Two Roles for Precedents 1.10 The Form of the Argument 1.11 Glossary 1.12 Description 1: Order and Measure 1.13 Demonstrations 2. Sorting Through Ideas 2.1 Diagrams as Method 2.2 Diagram Types 2.3 Diagram and Design Education 2.4 Learning Diagrammatic Form 2.5 Gestalt Sub-categories 2.6 The Diagram and Visual Order 2.7 Our Purpose 2.8 Glossary 2.9 Description 2: The Essential Hut 2.10 Demonstrations 3. Order First 3.1 On Order 3.2 On Measure 3.3 Dividing the Square 3.4 Rules of Engagement 3.5 Positive and Negative Space 3.6 Order and the Orthogonal 3.7 Glossary 3.8 Description 3: Order, Orientation and the Orthogonal 3.9 Demonstrations 4. Design and Drawing Fundamentals 4.1 On Drawing 4.2 Relevance to Design 4.3 Deriving Order in Drawing 4.4 Exercises in Relational Geometry 4.5 Defined and Implied Space 4.6 Analyzing the Composition 4.7 Three Variant Compositions 4.8 Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity 4.9 The Variations Considered 4.10 General Observations 4.11 Motif, Pattern and Theme 4.12 Defined Fields 4.13 Sorting Through Results 4.14 Implied Fields 4.15 Adding Fields 4.16 Combining Fields 4.17 Summary 4.18 Glossary 4.19 Description 4: The Courtyard 4.20 Demonstrations 5. Building on Proportion 5.1 Object on a Field 5.2 A figure in the Relational Field 5.3 Looking at the Groups 5.4 Adding to the Quadrants 5.5 Two Elements 5.6 Refining the Figures 5.7 Observing the New Figures 5.8 Observing the New Group 5.9 Glossary 5.10 Description 5: Figures and Fields 5.11 Demonstrations 6. Conventions in Design 6.1 Drawing in the Third Dimension 6.2 Adding Fields and Overhead Planes 6.3 Turning the Grid 6.4 Reading the Section 6.5 Plan Layers 6.6 Final Relief 6.7 Summary 6.8 Glossary 6.9 Description 6: Axis and Path 7. Starting in Three Dimensions 7.1 Design on a Grid 7.2 The Site 7.3 Three Figures 7.4 Spatial Models 7.5 Visualizing Axes 7.6 Spatial Hierarchy – Field, Grain and Path 7.7 Clarifying Plan Elements 7.8 More Complex Strategies 7.9 Diagram Model #1 7.10 Three Diagram Models 7.11 Five Diagrams 7.12 Constructing the Model 7.13 Glossary 7.14 Description 7: Spatial systems 8. Precedent in Two Dimensions 8.1 Introduction 8.2 Two Concepts 8.3 Two Expressions 8.4 Two Dimensions 8.5 House with Three Courts 8.6 The Danteum 8.7 Glossary 9. Precedents in Three Dimensions 9.1 Introduction 9.2 Representing the Third Dimension 9.3 Phillips Exeter Academy Library 9.4 Plan + Section = Isometric 9.5 Three-dimensional Anatomy 9.6 Unity Temple 9.7 Fundamental Diagrams 9.8 Cubes in Common 9.9 Diagram as Generator 9.10 Glossary 10. Color & Material in Diagrams 10.1 First observations 10.2 Initial Encounters 10.3 A first Visual Palette 10.4 Color and Materials 10.5 Color and Material as Identifiers in Diagrams 10.6 Glossary 10.7 Demonstration Appendices Glossary Sources Index

About the Authors

Jeffery Balmer is an assistant professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Michael T. Swisher is an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ARCHITECTURE / Design, Drafting, Drawing & Presentation
ARCHITECTURE / Methods & Materials
ARCHITECTURE / Study & Teaching
DESIGN / General
DESIGN / Graphic Arts / General
DESIGN / Reference