What is a Building Program, a Parti, and Why Do They Matter?

Architecture, in general, is a little bit of an enigma. There is so much that goes into designing a beautiful home. Fortunately, our Co-founder and lead designer, Jordan Smith, has offered to impart some of his knowledge to help us make more sense of the world of architecture. He’ll occasionally appear here on the blog to define architectural principles and terms as well as explain his process and why good design matters. Our hope is that he can provide some insight, and together we can design and build your dream home. With that, we’ll let him take it away.

I believe I will forever be a student of architecture. It may be impossible to become a master of this vast field because architecture is so heavily influenced by its users as well as its creators. We all have particular tastes, and while certain tastes and styles can be more widely popular in different regions, the combination of different tastes is what makes each of us unique. Consider the uniqueness of the homes in your town or city. Now consider the differences between homes in America and the architecture of homes in Greece or Italy. What about homes in the Middle East vs. the Pacific Islands? You will find endless variations of form, function, materials and so on. When designing a home, my goal is to discover your personal tastes and cater the design to them.

Throughout my career in building design, I have noticed that something magical happens when my clients and I truly understand one another. It is an edifying experience when architectural principles connect with a client’s individual tastes and together, we can create a place that is both beautiful and functional.  For us, it doesn’t get much better than helping you establishing a home that your family and friends can enjoy and thrive in. 


A well-designed building typically starts with a list of wants and needs, as well as a vision or idea of what you want the building to look like. I’ll take it a step further and say that it should also include what you want it to feel like, but we’ll get to that later.

In architecture, your list of wants and needs is called your “program.” The program establishes things like the size, number, and uses of rooms. Maybe you want a six-bedroom home with three bathrooms, an office, a theater, an open floor plan, and a special place for your dog. Or it could be as simple as three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and 1,800 square feet. Whatever you have on your list, it is important that your program aligns with your budget and lot. One of our recent clients wanted a six-bedroom home with three and a half baths and an attached garage. However, the home could only be twenty-nine feet wide due to zoning restrictions. Just like this client, every project faces limits or constraints unique to you and your lot, so we do our best to gather all of this information and establish your program before any designing begins.

As I mentioned above, you’ll also have a vision or idea of how you want the home to look. In architecture, this is called a “parti” (par-TEE). A parti guides the designer throughout the design process. I hesitate to use the example of an “inspiration picture” because it’s more than that, however, it may be the easiest way to explain it. Let’s try. 

Often times, a client will show us an “inspiration picture” from Pinterest, Houzz or something similar. While that’s helpful, we need to dig a bit deeper. We’ll ask something like “what is it about this home that you like?” Then, we’ll listen carefully for clues. We’re looking for what matters to you beyond the square footage and the rooms. What is it about that image that resonates with you and can bring special meaning and purpose to your new home? Maybe you find security, safety, or even sanity in order, so you tend to favor clean lines and symmetry. Maybe you like a combination of styles and feel energized by chaos or randomness. Knowing what you like and how things make you feel informs the design; this begins to shape the parti of the building – the vision or your big idea. 


Now that you know what we mean by program and parti, we can briefly walk you through our design process. Of course, this is a very paired down example, but it should be fun! I like the idea of using chaos as inspiration. That is one I have never really considered. 

When I think of chaos, I think of rush hour traffic in a big city. I think of intersections and crosswalks with drivers and walkers everywhere. If our big idea, or parti, is chaos, then let’s consider how a home might take shape based on an intersection and crossing paths. First, I would begin by sketching what several intersections downtown might look like. Pretty simple. From there, I begin to see organized space, derived from a thought about chaos. So far, so fun. I define areas within the organized space and since our parti is chaos, I decided putting the kitchen in the middle of it all would stay true to that theme. Maybe we could even go as far as defining the “roads” with a slate floor finish that would tastefully resemble asphalt?

Program and Parti_Floor Plan Sketch

With this diagram as our base, we can now go vertical. However, at this point I’m starting to think about escaping the chaos. This is a perfect example of how your parti will evolve as we go. It will gain more depth. In this case, our parti is now not only chaos, but it is also the escape from it.

So how would I escape the chaos in my home? I like the idea of the sitting room being a calm place to rest and escape. I think a great way to achieve that rest and escape is to enjoy nature. With maximized views via mass amounts of glazing (glass, windows), the sitting room becomes this place of rest. It has also become an exterior and interior statement piece. Since it is directly in line with the entry, I’d want to make sure those entering the home could see it as they entered, giving them the assurance of rest amidst the apparent chaos. This idea might look something like this.

Program and Parti_Exterior Sketch

Remember, this house could have gone in many directions. In my initial sketch, the floorplan seemed to lend itself more to a contemporary style home. That’s where the parti and program have to work together and balance plays an important role. Let’s say for example, that my program included two floors and a lot of natural light. My parti was chaos, and as we got going also included an escape from the chaos. The program and the parti will push and pull at each other throughout the process.


Designing with the program in mind keeps the design and the parti from getting too out of hand. In that same vein, designing using a parti ensures you end up with a home that is as unique as your preferences. If you want a cottage feel, then you’ll get a cottage feel. If you want a sanctuary, then you’ll get a sanctuary. If you want a craftsman home, you’ll get a craftsman. 

Using both a program and a parti as guides throughout the design process allows us to design a home that you will love and enjoy. The end result will meet your wants and needs and look and feel the way you hoped it would. After all, we just helped put your big idea into practice to create a design you can appreciate for a lifetime.