The Oxford English Dictionary defines “parti pris” as meaning ‘a preconceived view; a bias or prejudice’. The phrase comes from French etymology: Around the late 15th century, parti meant ‘decision’ and pris, being the past participle of prendre, meant ‘to take’. Later the phrase evolved to mean prejudice, in the sense of ‘decision’ or ‘adopted position’ around 1734.
In architecture, the parti is the primary concept or organizing idea behind a design. The parti, or main idea, can be illustrated in a parti diagram. These simple drawings show relationships between the different structural elements of the idea. A parti should be drawn using as few lines as possible and should convey the architect’s idea in a straightforward way. The parti drives the architects decisions relating to the space. The final product should reflect the concepts behind the physical structure. In SMLXL, Rem Koolhaas states “Architecture must always have as its goal the whole, the complete, remaining fully aware of the fact that a total transformation lies within the sphere of the Utopian, and that only fragments of a complete idea are ever executed.” If the architect’s main idea is clear in the parti drawing, the final building should be discernable in the original drawing, even if parts of the parti have been diluted or comprimised. Here are some examples of parti drawings by famous architects, followed by the plans and final buildings:
|Parti Examples from "Sketch, Plan, Build" by Alejandro Bahamon|
What the architect was trying to convey in the first drawing is evident in the final photograph.
Outside of an architectural context, the parti can also be applied to technological and social developments. The parti should be the driving force behind any creative or innovative idea. For example, for Karl Marx, the parti behind communism were the concepts of egalitarianism and socialism. The parti behind the Macbook was to create a computer that was both user-friendly and well designed.
Currently in our society, however, most things that are created lack a parti. We live in a world where we are driven to consume, and must therefore produce enough to meet those demands of consumption. As such, things are produced arbitrarily, in order to accommodate society’s needs and wants. A large, big box store is built not because the architect had a concept they wanted to express, but so it can house a series of consumer products- in many cases products that lack a parti themselves. As a society, we are directionless, since we have overpopulated our world with things that lack any sort of driving concept.
The contrasting view to this argument is that not all things require a parti. Architects and designers are often viewed as impractical and narcissistic, for their inability to sacrifice the main idea behind their design in order to meet time or budgetary constraints. A building or device doesn’t need a parti, as long as it serves some sort of function. For example, a Wal-Mart doesn’t need a parti behind it; it is useful to us because it houses a series of consumer products, all in a singular location. The simple function it serves is enough of a reason for it to exist.
--Ella den Elzen
Koolhaas, Rem and Bruce Mau. Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1995.
"parti pris, n. and adj.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/236021?redirectedFrom=parti+pris (accessed November 21, 2012).