Functional Diagrams


After gaining an understanding of both the clients and the site, the designer possesses two general sets of information. The first set stems from meeting the clients and is a written list of elements and spaces required to satisfy the clients’ needs and expecta­tions. The second set of information is the site inventory and analysis that is recorded with written notes and graphic symbols on a copy of the base map. The written por­tions of these two sets of information are combined in the final step of the research and preparation phase to establish the design program.

With the research and preparation phase completed, the landscape designer is ready to start designing. To do this, an effective method is needed for combining the written design program information with the specific conditions of the site. This is done with functional diagrams. This chapter discusses what functional diagrams are, their purpose and significance in the design process, a method for preparing them, and design qualities that can be studied by using functional diagrams.


Functional diagrams are freehand drawings that use bubbles and diagrammatic sym­bols to graphically depict the program elements of a design as they relate to each other and to the specific conditions of the site. Whereas the site inventory and analysis are prepared with the aid of a base map, functional diagrams are developed using the site analysis and the base sheet.

The purpose of functional diagrams is to create a broad-brushed, conceptual layout of the proposed design, based on function. They provide the general organiza­tional structure for a design, similar to what an outline does for a written report. Functional diagrams can be considered the underlying foundation of a design. Later phases of the design process are based on these diagrams.

Functional diagrams are used to study various factors that deal with the func­tion and general layout of the design. At this time, less thought is given to specific appearance or aesthetics, which are dealt with later in the design process.

Designers can communicate with other designers and clients concerning the overall functional organization of the site with the graphic language of functional di­agrams. This graphic language allows for quick expression of ideas. It is common for designers to initially formulate a number of mental images or preconceived ideas

about a design. Although some of these ideas might be specific, others are more gen­eral and need to be quickly transferred to paper to allow the designer to study them. The sooner these ideas are drawn on paper, the easier it is to evaluate them. The graphic vocabulary of functional diagrams is an invaluable tool for this much-needed quick expression. And because functional diagrams are freehand and general in their graphic style, they can be revised or altered rather easily. This encourages creativity by studying alternatives as one searches for an appropriate design solution.

Updated: October 9, 2015 — 1:30 am