Graphic Overlays – Building on Bubble, Form Composition, and Functional Diagrams

September 17, 2010


Bubble diagrams are a great tool for ideation, adjacency analysis, and space planning.  In a previous post I stated that I think functional diagrams are a more formal tool to explore how spaces will fit together and get a better sense of potential design layouts and patterns.  Bubble diagrams are the rough tool.  Functional diagrams are a more precise tool.

In making the transition from bubble diagrams and functional diagrams it is useful to have some idea of form composition.  Are you going with a rectangular, diagonal, arc and tangent, etc.?  Having an overlay of the base plan that is marked with the various lines of force that you want to evaluate can be useful for building your functional diagrams.

Consider this example.  The owners have a barren back yard.  They want 600 square feet of outdoor space that accommodates a table for dining, a conversation area with a fire pit, a lounging area, a grill, and a water feature.  The space is open off of a sliding glass door.  There are windows on each side of the sliding door.  Shown below are to base plans with lines of force marked for rectangular and diagonal form compositions.

Rectangular Lines of Force Form Composition

Diagonal Lines of Force Form Composition

In the rectangular form composition there are only lines running out from the back of the house at the door and window openings.  However these three openings suggest a pattern extending from the back of the residence.  The diagonal form composition has twice as many lines since they run in both directions.  My take on this pattern is that the two lines extending from the door opening have the most potential.  My decision is to go with the rectangular form composition because of the three major lines extending from the back of the house.

The bubble diagram I prepared reflects the results of the space adjacency analysis I performed.  The water feature should be visible from the table, conversation area, and lounging area.  The table should be accessible from the grill and the house.  The grill should not be overly close to the house, table, lounging area, or conversation area.

Bubble Diagram of required spaces and adjacency

At this point I am ready to see how the bubble diagram interfaces with my form composition.  I am using PowerPoint in this case, so I simply copy one on top of another:

Bubble Diagram fitted to Lines of Force

Everything seems to line up but this may not be the optimal placement.  That is really the point I am trying to make about the difference between bubble diagrams and functional diagrams.  I want to explore placement of spaces within the form composition to determine my final design layout, spacing, and placement.  The bubble diagram was a rough tool.  It helped me establish adjacency relationships. I need to go a step further and begin placing functions within the space.  The diagram below shows how the functional “bubbles” were generally placed.

Functional Diagram overlaid on Lines of Force

The lounging area is positioned to the right since that area offers the best sun exposure and it is less likely to interfere with the grill.  The table and conversation area were positioned to the right, away from the grill.  The table is closer to the door.  The lounging, conversation, and table areas all have visual contact with the water feature.

The next step is to create the actual design pattern for the space and to physically position the areas more precisely.  This is the final design.  The two side pieces build off the lines of force from the windows and also push the lounging area and conversation areas further away from the house.  The water feature makes a nice focal point and is centered on the lines of force from the door.

Final Design based on build up of form composition, bubble diagrams, and functional diagrams

Using overlays to check patterns and explore ideas is easy.  DynaSCAPE can be used to create the base plan which can be exported to PowerPoint, Photoshop, or a similar program.  Even scanned images can be used.  Use may have to remove the white background color since overlays tend to work better if they are transparent.

Using analytical tools and techniques is all part of the validation process.  The preliminary bubble diagrams were based on adjacency analysis of the required spaces.  These were overlaid on to base plans for form composition analysis.  Finally the selected form was overlaid with a functional diagram to identify the placement and relationship of the spaces.  These preceded the preliminary design and final design.  Going through these steps helped assure that the design was appropriate and met the client’s requirements.

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2 Responses to “Graphic Overlays – Building on Bubble, Form Composition, and Functional Diagrams”

  1. Aaron Wagner Says:

    Hello! I just came across your post looking for good diagrams to show my design class. I would like to use your sequence if that is okay with you. You can email me a yes or no and I will honor you decision.

    Thank you

    Aaron Wagner
    Part-time instructor Front Range Community College
    Fort Collins, CO.


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