Understanding Architectural Diagrams - archisoup | Architecture Guides & Resources (2022)

Architectural diagrams. Too stylized to be drawings, too imprecise to be plans, and too flat to be models. So what exactly are they?

This article will explain what architectural diagrams are, why they are made, and how they are used and categorized. It will also describe how architectural diagrams are put together, and the kinds of mistakes you should avoid when creating one. You can find examples of architectural diagrams throughout this article.

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What is a diagram?

Diagrams represent ideas in visual form. They are two-dimensional (although they can show three-dimensional objects) and may contain text, shapes and lines; the word diagram literally means ‘marked out by lines’ in Greek. They have existed for thousands of years, though of course they have become more sophisticated over time.

Today we use three main types of diagram. Quantitative diagrams (such as bar graphs and pie charts) illustrate data sets, and tend to be the first ones we encounter in school. Conceptual diagrams (like flowcharts and Venn diagrams) show relationships between items, while schematic diagrams (like exploded diagrams and subway maps) are best described as simplified, abstracted pictures.

Architectural diagrams tend either to be conceptual or schematic.

What is an architectural diagram?

Architectural diagrams help to clarify a building, relationships between elements of a building, or a process connected to a building. They have no unified appearance but they distil unwieldy, hard-to-understand concepts into discrete, easy-to-understand images.

They do this with visual symbols which can be considered all at once, unlike language which must be processed in a linear fashion. The architectural theorist Robert Somol has suggested that diagrams ‘operate precisely between the form and the word’ – which is perhaps why they are so useful for communicating ideas to clients during the building design process.

What is the purpose of architectural diagrams?

Architectural diagrams can be said to have different functions depending on when and how they are used. In the early stages of the design process, they are often used to aid thinking and help architects solve problems.

As a project progresses, they might be used to clarify what is required and as a source of reference for different parties. Throughout and after the design process, architectural diagrams are used to communicate ideas – to colleagues, to clients, and to members of the public.

Fraser Shields suggests that the ‘open, generative’ nature of diagrams ‘frees the designing process from formal considerations for as long as possible’. In other words, diagrams can act as temporary place-markers while we work, which is less restrictive and time-consuming than making formalized plans and drawings.

Diagrams also have the advantage of being able to show different types of information within one image.

Types of architectural diagram

In The Architecture of Diagrams, Andrew Chaplin suggests there are 18 kinds of diagram found within architecture. They are:

1. Planimetric

As the name suggests, planimetric diagrams show plans, i.e. views of buildings or elements of buildings as seen from above. However, they differ from actual plans in that they that are representational only, without precise scales or dimensions.

The below diagram represents the different floor areas of a housing scheme in Paris.

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2. Sectional

Sectional diagrams show the interior details of a building by ‘slicing’ through it vertically. Again, these diagrams simply represent the building; they cannot be used as instructions.

The below diagram of Anh House by S+Na. – Sanuki + Nishizawa architects illustrates how natural elements such as light, wind and vegetation interact with the building.

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3. Axonometric

This kind of diagram shows an exterior viewpoint in parallel projection, in other words two sides of the same building. Used here to demonstrate alternative design proposals, axonometric diagrams are often used to show design concepts as a whole, and describe the process behind them.

They can be broken down into individual parts, exploded, of present finished schemes.

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4. Programmatic

A programmatic diagram shows the layout of a building and how people will actually use it. The below diagrams forBook House and the Seattle Central Library describe the buildings plan and section circulation in a visual and engaging format.

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5. Contextual

Contextual diagrams can appear somewhat abstract, as their function is to show how a building relates beyond itself to a wider landscape. Representing abstract ideas of a general notion, these diagrams often contain less detail than others, but nonetheless are an important tool in describing a projects immediate and global surroundings.

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6. Circulation

Circulation diagrams such show the movement of users around a space. Arguably, they are a subset of programmatic diagrams (above), which show the ways in which people will use a building or area.

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7. Structural

Represented through either planimetric, sectional and/or axonometric diagrams, this kind of diagram shows either the physical structure of a building, or how invisible forces such as tension and compression act on the structure of a building.

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8. Scaled

The purpose of scaled diagrams is to provide context and help relate one building to another, this can be done through using the scale of everyday human activity, and/or any other commonly known reference.

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9. Sequential

Sequential diagrams show sequences. What this means in architectural terms is that these diagrams will have several parts, which retain a constant background but show each step of a process (for example planned extensions over several years within the grounds of a school).

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10. Generative

Generative diagrams are experimental. They are worked and reworked to help the architect settle on an idea, not unlike the drawings produced during the concept design stage of a building project.

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11. Topological

This kind of diagram shows the relationships between elements of a building or space, and can provide a clear illustration of how each space works together and sits within the overall plan.

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12. Euclidian

A Euclidian diagram looks like a grid. It shows buildings, or elements of buildings, arranged so that none can be moved without the adjacent elements being impacted.

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13. Visual field

Visual field diagrams place lines and arrows inside a ‘cone’ to give an insight into users’ perception of a building or space.

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14. Sensation

Among the most abstracted of all the types, sensation diagrams aim to convey somewhat intangible effects within a building or space such as light, texture and emotion.Aiming to demonstrate how the human senses will interact and feel.

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15. Diagrammatic buildings

Made using simple forms, these diagrams show the building as it ought to look when it is built, but without specifications.

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16. Parti

Parti diagrams record an architect’s initial response to a site or brief. Since they illustrate early concepts, they are usually drawn by hand. Parti diagrams are perhaps the most abstracted of all architectural diagrams, and may also be considered generative (above).

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17. Equipment and effects

These diagrams show elements of the building that are separate to the main structure, but which still interact with it in a significant way.

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18. Post facto

Post-facto diagrams show landscapes, buildings or elements of buildings after they have been constructed. One common example is the 3D fire escape route map displayed in hotel rooms.

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How are architectural diagrams used?

The main use of architectural diagrams is to help us analyze what we need to do in order to create an effective building or space. For example, architects may create a series of ‘bubble diagrams’ (which could further be described as planimetric, contextual, generative…) to experiment with the relationship between different spaces in a building.

Or they may sketch sight lines to test what will be visible from where. This is a much more intuitive – and enjoyable! – process for most people than calculating and recalculating dimensions numerically.

Another use of architectural diagrams, as mentioned above, is that they can serve as temporary place-markers that allow a project to move forward. There may be times when precise details are not yet known or necessary, but a diagram allows work to continue with information being added later.

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The diagram may be worked up to a formal architectural drawing as the project progresses.

And a final, perhaps self-evident use of architectural diagrams is to communicate our thinking to a client or to members of the public. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

How to draw an architectural diagram

When producing an architectural diagram, keep the following things in mind.

Use shape and line consistently

There are no fixed rules about the shapes and lines that should be used in architectural diagrams, but consistency is essential. Always explain the meaning of each element in your diagram, from a basic box to a dotted edge.

Use a key

Anyone using your diagram should be able to understand it at a glance. That means including a key within the diagram – not on the reverse, not appended, but alongside the main drawing.

Limit the number of colors

Architects are designers, so this should be obvious! Use the smallest number of different colors required, and use them consistently. Unless you are trying to attract attention – for example in a safety poster – a muted palette is also generally preferable.

Don’t be afraid to create multiple diagrams…

The more cluttered your diagram gets, the harder it is to understand. It’s fine to separate different elements into different diagrams if this makes them easier to read – but remember to be consistent with shape, color and line across all of them.

…and don’t be afraid to combine diagrams!

If you have more than one diagram that shows the same part of the building, or a similar process, it’s also fine to merge them into one (as long as you can retain clarity).

Consider using specialized software to help you

A range of software packages is available to help you create architectural (and other) diagrams.

Mistakes to avoid in architectural diagrams

Similarly, when producing an architectural diagram, try to avoid the following common mistakes.

Incompleteness

If there is anything that feels confusing or disjointed about your diagram, it isn’t ready. You should understand everything within it yourself before presenting it to a client, or attempting to use it as a guideline for a team.

Lack of definition

Never assume that what is clear to you will be clear to a reader. Make sure every single item is explained within your key, and pay particular attention to abbreviations and acronyms.

Information overload

Busy diagrams immediately tire the eyes (with respect to the designers of Tokyo’s subway map, who have an almighty challenge on their hands, compare it with that of the London Underground). Keep yours as simple as you can.

Information underload

With that said, make sure your diagram includes all the information that is needed for comprehension. If you go too basic, clients will immediately come to you with questions. Check and check again for missing, incomplete or unexplained elements.

Useful resources for finding inspiration

Architectural diagrams on Pinterest

www.conceptdiagram.com

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To conclude

Architectural diagrams, in their many and various forms, sometimes seem to defy categorization – but they are an invaluable tool in the design process. Diagrams are an effective means of communicating ideas to clients and the public; they condense large amounts of diverse information into small fields; and their informality and flexibility allow us to move on with a project when not all the information is available to us yet.

If you keep in mind the golden rules – not too much, not too little, consistency, and a key that adequately explains all the elements – you should find that your architectural diagrams save you time and hassle, and ultimately smooth your passage through a project.

FAQs

How do you explain an architecture diagram? ›

An architectural diagram is a visual representation that maps out the physical implementation for components of a software system. It shows the general structure of the software system and the associations, limitations, and boundaries between each element. Software environments are complex—and they aren't static.

Why are architectural diagrams important? ›

An architecture diagram is a visual representation of all the elements that make up part, or all, of a system. Above all, it helps the engineers, designers, stakeholders — and anyone else involved in the project — understand a system or app's layout.

What makes a good architecture diagram? ›

Architectural diagrams should be self-explanatory. If they're not, then they're failing. To make sure yours is easy to understand, keep variable elements consistent, and explain everything in the legend, key, or glossary.

What is the full meaning of architecture? ›

Definition of architecture

1 : the art or science of building specifically : the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones. 2a : formation or construction resulting from or as if from a conscious act the architecture of the garden.

What is solution architecture diagram? ›

Based on the complexity of the deployment, a solution architecture diagram may actually be a set of diagrams documenting various levels of the architecture. The diagram relates the information that you gather on the environment to both physical and logical choices for your architecture in an easily understood manner.

Where do you create an architecture diagram? ›

Visio. Considered the de facto standard for diagrams of all kinds, Microsoft Visio continues to be a popular choice for enterprise architects across all industries.

How do you draw functional architecture? ›

Mod-01 Lec-09 Functional Architecture Development - YouTube

What is physical architecture diagram? ›

These diagrams show the physical structure of some or all of a system at a particular level. The PAD shows the physical flows between the system components at the level of interest. Every symbol in the diagram represents something physical, including paths through which data passes.

What is architecture of a project? ›

Cross-section, plan, connection details of the building; The architectural façade of the building, which gives architectural and technical information about its material, layout plans, interior structure and aesthetic concern about the harmony of the building with other buildings, is called Architectural Project.

How do you make an architect diagram in Word? ›

Add a drawing to a document
  1. Insert a shape. On the Format tab, in the Insert Shapes group, click a shape, and then click somewhere in the document.
  2. Change a shape. ...
  3. Add text to a shape. ...
  4. Group selected shapes. ...
  5. Draw in the document. ...
  6. Adjust the size of the shapes. ...
  7. Apply a style to a shape. ...
  8. Add flow charts with connectors.

What are the components of system architecture? ›

"System architecture comprises the major physical properties, style, structure, interactions, and purpose of a system."

How do you create a system diagram? ›

In order to build the systems thinking diagram, we need to clearly identify the elements of the system and how it interacts with each other. Building the systems diagrams requires four steps; identify the events, identify the pattern of, behavior, build the system, and determine the mental models.

What is a high level architecture diagram? ›

High-level design (HLD) explains the architecture that would be used to develop a system. The architecture diagram provides an overview of an entire system, identifying the main components that would be developed for the product and their interfaces.

What is system architecture with example? ›

The following are illustrative examples of system architecture.
...
Deployment.
Overview: System Architecture
TypeSystems
DefinitionThe structural design of systems.
Related ConceptsSystems » Software Architecture » Automation » System Architecture Definition » Software Components » Reliability Engineering »
19 Mar 2018

What is the main purpose of architecture? ›

The purpose of Architecture is to improve human life. Create timeless, free, joyous spaces for all activities in life. The infinite variety of these spaces can be as varied as life itself and they must be as sensible as nature in deriving from a main idea and flowering into a beautiful entity.

How can I learn architecture? ›

People who want to receive an architecture degree that will facilitate their licensure as an architect have two options: either a five-year undergraduate degree in architecture known as a B. Arch. or a post-college master's program known as an M. Arch., which usually takes two or three years to complete.

How can I be a good solution architect? ›

Successful solutions architects are usually curious, rational, analytical, and methodical—all of which are important traits for this job. The solution architect role also requires being able to project into the future and consider upcoming uses.

What is solution architecture and why is it important? ›

Solution architecture is a practice to provide ground for software development projects by tailoring IT solutions to specific business needs and defining their functional requirements and stages of implementation.

What do solution architects look for? ›

What are a Solution Architect's skills & qualifications?
  • Technical background and experience in development.
  • Ability to consult management and engineering teams with technical advice. ...
  • Communication skills. ...
  • Deep analytical skills and the ability to see the connections between layers of business operations.

What is application architecture diagram? ›

An application architecture diagram provides a high-level graphical view of the application architecture, and helps you identify applications, sub-applications, components, databases, services, etc, and their interactions.

What is difference between functional and technical architecture? ›

Let's explore the difference between a functional and a technical design. In short, the functional design contains information about what the proposed software should do, while the technical design specifies how the software should be built.

How do you draw a solution diagram? ›

How to Draw Enterprise Architecture Diagram - YouTube

What is technical architecture design? ›

Technical Architecture (TA) is a form of IT architecture that is used to design computer systems. It involves the development of a technical blueprint with regard to the arrangement, interaction, and interdependence of all elements so that system-relevant requirements are met.

What is a logical architecture view? ›

Logical view: Describes how the system is structured in terms of units of implementation. The elements are packages, classes, and interfaces. The relationship between elements shows dependencies, interface realizations, part-whole relationships, and so forth.

What is logical architecture model? ›

The logical architecture model of a engineered system of interest (SoI) is composed of a set of related technical concepts and principles that support the logical operation of the system. It may include a functional architecture view, a behavioral architecture view, and a temporal architecture view.

What is application architecture diagram? ›

An application architecture diagram provides a high-level graphical view of the application architecture, and helps you identify applications, sub-applications, components, databases, services, etc, and their interactions.

What is architecture diagram in UML? ›

A simple architecture diagram (UML) helps system designers and developers visualize the high-level structure of their system or application to ensure it meets their users' needs. It can also help describe patterns that are used throughout the design.

What is a network architecture diagram? ›

A network diagram is a visual representation of network architecture. It maps out the structure of a network with a variety of different symbols and line connections. It is the ideal way to share the layout of a network because the visual presentation makes it easier for users to understand how items are connected.

What is architecture of a project? ›

Cross-section, plan, connection details of the building; The architectural façade of the building, which gives architectural and technical information about its material, layout plans, interior structure and aesthetic concern about the harmony of the building with other buildings, is called Architectural Project.

What are the three main components of application architecture layer? ›

Three-tier architecture is a well-established software application architecture that organizes applications into three logical and physical computing tiers: the presentation tier, or user interface; the application tier, where data is processed; and the data tier, where the data associated with the application is ...

What are architecture principles? ›

Architecture principles define the underlying general rules and guidelines for the use and deployment of all IT resources and assets across the enterprise. They reflect a level of consensus among the various elements of the enterprise, and form the basis for making future IT decisions.

What is system architecture with example? ›

The following are illustrative examples of system architecture.
...
Deployment.
Overview: System Architecture
TypeSystems
DefinitionThe structural design of systems.
Related ConceptsSystems » Software Architecture » Automation » System Architecture Definition » Software Components » Reliability Engineering »
19 Mar 2018

What are the components of system architecture? ›

"System architecture comprises the major physical properties, style, structure, interactions, and purpose of a system."

How do you make an architect diagram in Word? ›

Add a drawing to a document
  1. Insert a shape. On the Format tab, in the Insert Shapes group, click a shape, and then click somewhere in the document.
  2. Change a shape. ...
  3. Add text to a shape. ...
  4. Group selected shapes. ...
  5. Draw in the document. ...
  6. Adjust the size of the shapes. ...
  7. Apply a style to a shape. ...
  8. Add flow charts with connectors.

What is the importance of modeling in UML? ›

Importance of Modeling

In Unified Modeling Language (UML), a model may be structural, emphasizing the organization of the system or it may be behavioral, emphasizing the dynamics of the system. A model is a simplification of reality, providing blueprints of a system.

What are the main components of a network diagram? ›

A logical network diagram illustrates the flow of information through a network and shows how devices communicate with each other. It typically includes elements like subnets, network objects and devices, routing protocols and domains, voice gateways, traffic flow and network segments.

How do you start an architectural plan? ›

5 Tips for Starting an Architecture Project
  1. Develop your own interpretation of the project brief. ...
  2. Research and understand your project's site context. ...
  3. Figure out your constraints. ...
  4. Research precedents and case studies. ...
  5. Sketch, sketch and sketch!
6 Feb 2022

What do you call a person who does architecture? ›

Definition of architect

1 : a person who designs buildings and advises in their construction. 2 : a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking the architect of American foreign policy.

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