The Parti and the Bicycle

One of my favorite things about being the principal of an architecture firm is figuring out how we work as a studio to produce things. I’ve always believed that if your work is done well, that it serves a greater purpose – to show you something that you weren’t aware of. That’s what I like to call “le parti.” Some people refer to the parti as the concept or idea behind the design, but I think this is an incomplete description. I see the parti as being more about the manifestation of things that are hidden or subconscious, the construction of intangible things. It’s the soul, the generic material of the process; it’s how it conjointly behaves. In architectural lingo, it’s a phenomenological condition.
The parti can:
– bring forward a framework
– suggest a point of view or perspective, either physical or sociological
– make you more than you are
– make you aware of things that are right in front of you
– give you a sense of physicality
– be a gauge of yourself in the world
– make you feel or understand something greater
– be not always intended or fully designed
– be coincidental
The parti can be illustrated but another way to show it is through metaphor. The metaphor I always like to use to explain the parti is the bicycle.
There are a million ways of building a bicycle. It depends on how it’s to be used. Where are you riding your bike? Are you riding it downtown? Are you going to the mountains? Will you be racing in the Tour de France? So it’s site dependant. And the site is important as it tells me how to build the bicycle.
Next, you have to consider the bike’s purpose. Do you want to go fast? Is it for recreation? Is it for one person, is it a tandem, does it need to have two or three wheels? What is its purpose on the site?
Once you’ve built your bicycle and you’re on it, you become more. You’re not just a person anymore; you’re a person on a bicycle. This changes your perspective. Things move faster. You get wind in your face. You distinguish yourself from those walking. The bicycle also makes you do different things. You start to exercise. Your health gets better. Similarly, if you live in a great piece of architecture, physically and psychologically you should get better. It should influence your health and state of mind; it should be fun and interesting. Just like it is fun and interesting to ride a bicycle.
The bicycle is useless until it interplays with the site and the user and the construction of the bike. They are all interrelated. So if you want to go to the Tour de France you need to build your bike as light and as minimalist as possible so you’ll go as fast as possible. It also means you need to train, you need spare parts, there’s the whole science of how to brake and how to pedal. They’re all connected.
But is the bike about its brake? Let’s say you buy a crappy bike and you put a kick-ass brake on it. Does it really change your experience that much? Not really.
We’re talking about a bicycle but it applies to architecture too. There’s a science part to it, and there’s an experience part to it and there’s a psychological part to it. There’s the site, the construction, the user experience, and the benefits of that experience. All houses are not, nor should they be, the same. That’s why knowing the parti is so important, and why we put it at the forefront of what we do.
Richard Davignon – Principal Architect
Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design

Categories: Parti

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