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Bubble Diagrams in Architecture & Interior Design

Shelley Watts, Ela Poursani
  • Author
    Shelley Watts

    Shelley has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering magna cum laude and has over 15 years of experience encompassing Research & Development work, Teaching, and Consulting.

  • Instructor
    Ela Poursani

    Ela has taught college Architecture, Interior Design, and Culinary Design and has a doctorate degree in architecture.

Explore bubble diagrams in architecture and see their role in programs and interior designs. Learn about graphical language in designing and spatial relationships. Updated: 05/02/2022

What Is Bubble Diagram?

A bubble diagram is analogous to a wedding reception layout. When planning the layout of a formal wedding reception, it is common to see the location of the head table for the wedding party, the cake table, the dance floor, the band area, and each guest table for specific guests. A diagram is created to show where each of these will be located within the reception venue so that it can be adequately implemented at the time of the event. Each of these items is depicted in the diagram with shapes, like circles or squares, placed in their designated arrangement within the venue. Bubble diagrams have this same purpose in the field of architecture and interior design in that they show the arrangement and placement of spaces, while also showing the relationship between them. Specifically, bubble diagrams have drawn bubbles (representing spaces) that are connected by different types of lines that indicate the type of relationship between the spaces.

Bubble diagrams are hand drawings made by architects and interior designers. They are important to create at the preliminary phase of the interior design process in order to effectively get to the end phase, which is dependent on these diagrams. Since the main purpose of bubble diagrams is to portray the organization and relationship of spaces, they are useful in designing function but are not a part of aesthetic design. This is because aesthetic design involves more of the senses, how something looks, feels, etc, which can involve color, pattern, balance, and movement. Thus, architects and interior designers do not use bubble diagrams to create aesthetic buildings and interior spaces. Working with bubble diagrams will not result in an aesthetic building but a functional one. The functionality of the building or interior space is the ultimate goal for bubble diagrams.


Example of Bubble Diagram created for an Office Space. Each colored circle can be labeled with an identifier for the space or a legend can be attached.

Example of Bubble Diagram; each colored circle can be labeled with an identifier


Definition of a Bubble Diagram

Bubble diagrams are like wedding seating charts; you make a list categorizing all the invitees and sort the list into a table placement diagram. You select where and with whom they should sit according to the kinds of relationships they have. In architecture and interior design, you use bubble diagrams for arrangement and placement, too, with a focus on a list and relationships, like in wedding planning.

By definition, the bubble diagram is a freehand diagrammatic drawing made by architects and interior designers to be used for space planning and organization at the preliminary phase of the design process. The bubble diagram is important because later phases of the design process are based on them.

Basically, a bubble diagram conveys information. This information tells you the spaces of the building, their functions, relationships, and the circulation patterns. Let's go over these factors together.

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Bubble Diagram in Architecture

As discussed in the previous section, design principles can involve functional-usability and aesthetic-usability. In architecture, bubble diagrams convey information regarding functional-usability specifically by depicting the following elements: the spaces of the building, their functions, relationships, and the circulation patterns. These elements are described in further detail in the subsections below.

Program in Architectural Design

In interior design and architecture, the program is a list that itemizes the spaces that must take place in the building. It outlines the building requirements while itemizing and providing a description of each space with its assigned square footage, description of function, and use or activities, for all spaces.

The program is the main purpose of the bubble diagram. Programs can be used in interior design bubble diagrams just like how seating charts are used in mapping a wedding reception. Like a seating chart helps to translate the list of attendees into table arrangements, a bubble diagram helps to translate the program into a strategy or form. Essentially, the bubble diagram helps the designer to graphically illustrate the program for space planning and organization purposes dedicated to creating functional buildings and interior spaces.

Spatial Relationships

Bubble diagrams depict a program with the use of circles and ovals in a floor plan format. Each bubble (circle or oval) represents the space in order to serve its function (such as dining or sleeping) to create functional aspects of design, such as privacy, circulation, noise, and daylight. The bubble diagrams also convey which functions (circles or ovals) should be near one another in order for there to be functionality within the building.

The example of the seating chart used for wedding mapping can also be used to illustrate the concept of spatial relationships. For instance, when planning where to place the head table and the cake table at the reception, one could plan to place them near each other. This would be feasible because the bride and groom, seated at the head table, would need to go to the cake table as part of the ritual during the reception. This is similar to when planning the initial stages of home design. The kitchen may be placed closest to the dining room because food preparation and eating are compatible functions. The way this functional relationship would be illustrated on a bubble diagram would be adjoining or intersecting circles for the kitchen and dining room.

Program & Spaces

In architecture and interior design, you begin with the program. The program is a list that itemizes the spaces that must take place in the building. The program serves as an outline of the requirements of your building and describes spaces with assigned square footage and description of function, use, or activities.

The main purpose of a bubble diagram is to help you to translate the program into a strategy or form. Bubble diagrams simplify this step by graphically depicting the program and allowing for quick expressions, multiple layouts, and revisions. Like the seating chart does with the wedding guest list, a bubble diagram illustrates the program.

Function & Spatial Relationships

Bubble diagrams depict the program in the form of circles and ovals shown in a floor plan format. Each circle, or bubble, represents the space needed to carry out a function, such as dining, sleeping, and studying. Those circles get you involved in functional aspects of design, such as privacy, circulation, noise, daylight.

Bubble diagrams express not only the spaces within the building but also the relationships between spaces. They indicate what functions/spaces (circles) should be near each other in order for your building to offer functionality.

Let's go back to the wedding reception venue for an example. Where would you place the kitchen in the building? You would probably want to place it next to the dining hall because food preparation and eating are compatible functions; your bubble diagram would illustrate this functional relationship with adjoining or intersecting circles for kitchen and dining hall.

How about the restrooms at the reception venue? Where could the restrooms be placed in relation to the lobby and dining hall? A good plan would put the restrooms adjacent to the lobby and in immediate proximity to the dining hall.

Examples of Spatial Relationships

Here, we have expressed the relationships of your spaces with two related terms: adjacency and proximity. Adjacency defines the common needs, working spatial relationships, and their relative importance, such as near or close to. In bubble diagrams, adjacency is expressed graphically and written with keywords, such as primary, mandatory, secondary, desirable, or undesirable.

Adjacency identifies the proximity requirements, too. Proximity is the closeness of one space to another. A bubble diagram allows you to arrange proximity relationships between spaces and communicate it with keywords, such as immediate proximity and convenient proximity.

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Video Transcript

Definition of a Bubble Diagram

Bubble diagrams are like wedding seating charts; you make a list categorizing all the invitees and sort the list into a table placement diagram. You select where and with whom they should sit according to the kinds of relationships they have. In architecture and interior design, you use bubble diagrams for arrangement and placement, too, with a focus on a list and relationships, like in wedding planning.

By definition, the bubble diagram is a freehand diagrammatic drawing made by architects and interior designers to be used for space planning and organization at the preliminary phase of the design process. The bubble diagram is important because later phases of the design process are based on them.

Basically, a bubble diagram conveys information. This information tells you the spaces of the building, their functions, relationships, and the circulation patterns. Let's go over these factors together.

Program & Spaces

In architecture and interior design, you begin with the program. The program is a list that itemizes the spaces that must take place in the building. The program serves as an outline of the requirements of your building and describes spaces with assigned square footage and description of function, use, or activities.

The main purpose of a bubble diagram is to help you to translate the program into a strategy or form. Bubble diagrams simplify this step by graphically depicting the program and allowing for quick expressions, multiple layouts, and revisions. Like the seating chart does with the wedding guest list, a bubble diagram illustrates the program.

Function & Spatial Relationships

Bubble diagrams depict the program in the form of circles and ovals shown in a floor plan format. Each circle, or bubble, represents the space needed to carry out a function, such as dining, sleeping, and studying. Those circles get you involved in functional aspects of design, such as privacy, circulation, noise, daylight.

Bubble diagrams express not only the spaces within the building but also the relationships between spaces. They indicate what functions/spaces (circles) should be near each other in order for your building to offer functionality.

Let's go back to the wedding reception venue for an example. Where would you place the kitchen in the building? You would probably want to place it next to the dining hall because food preparation and eating are compatible functions; your bubble diagram would illustrate this functional relationship with adjoining or intersecting circles for kitchen and dining hall.

How about the restrooms at the reception venue? Where could the restrooms be placed in relation to the lobby and dining hall? A good plan would put the restrooms adjacent to the lobby and in immediate proximity to the dining hall.

Examples of Spatial Relationships

Here, we have expressed the relationships of your spaces with two related terms: adjacency and proximity. Adjacency defines the common needs, working spatial relationships, and their relative importance, such as near or close to. In bubble diagrams, adjacency is expressed graphically and written with keywords, such as primary, mandatory, secondary, desirable, or undesirable.

Adjacency identifies the proximity requirements, too. Proximity is the closeness of one space to another. A bubble diagram allows you to arrange proximity relationships between spaces and communicate it with keywords, such as immediate proximity and convenient proximity.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the bubble diagram in architecture?

In architecture, bubble diagrams convey information regarding the functional-usability of the building. Specifically, it depicts the spaces of the building, their functions, relationships, and the circulation patterns.

How do bubble diagrams work?

Bubble diagrams show the arrangement and placement of spaces while also showing the relationship between them. On the diagrams, drawn bubbles (representing spaces) are made and connected by different types of lines that indicate the type of relationship between the spaces.

How do you make a bubble diagram for interior design?

In interior design, a bubble diagram helps to translate the program (an itemized list of spaces with a description) into a strategy or form. Essentially, the bubble diagram helps the designer to graphically illustrate the program for space planning and organization purposes.

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