doing blueprints and get some plans

23 June 2011

We often get telephone calls literally asking questions like “do you do blueprints” or “how much for some plans.” This is largely related to residential work but occasionally comes up on a commercial project. Now, I have had many reactions to these calls and I must admit the general ignorance on public’s part to what architects do frustrates me. However, I suppose part of that is somehow our fault as architects; maybe it’s entirely our fault. So it inspired me to write a series of posts to address some of these questions.

Let’s start with “do you do blueprints?” For starters, the term “blueprint” is an archaic term occasionally still used by laymen to describe technical construction drawings (also called working drawings, construction drawings or prints). It originated because of the “blue” drawings made by a development process of copying an original drawing made on translucent paper onto chemically treated paper. Light was passed through the translucent paper onto the copy paper. The chemical turned blue leaving white lines where the ink or pencil blocked the light. A later process was the reverse with a white background and blue lines developed with ammonia (often referred to as a “diazo” print). At my first job for an architect, there were many a day where I got a headache from being in the print room with the ammonia smell developing prints. I don’t miss that.

We now refer to these technical drawings as “prints” or simply as drawings, construction drawings or construction documents. To be very precise they are part of the “contract documents” between the owner and contractor. Nevertheless, the reference to technical drawings or the preparation of documents used for construction is a part of an architect’s typical service; however, it is a result of a design process. Yes, we can ultimately provide our clients with construction drawings for a project, but first we must talk about the design no matter how simple. An architect cannot jump to technical drawings without knowing the “what” or more importantly, the “why” of the building design.

drafting tools

Another related question is “can I get some plans” or “how much for a set of plans?” Again, architects offer a service, not a product so even quoting a fee is dependent on the many questions that arise in defining the service needed and design requested. Architects review each unique project specifically to determine the degree of service needed or requested by each client. If someone is looking just for a set of drawings to get a building permit (i.e. similar to stock house plans) without really caring about the design process, then they are misunderstanding the difference between purchasing a set of drawings as a product and hiring an architect for their service. An architect’s service is a systematic process through which the architect endeavors to achieve the client’s construction goals within their budget regardless of the size or complexity of the project. The production of contract documents or construction drawings is an important component of an architect’s service. It is where the artistic meets the technical. But that part of the process cannot be performed separately from a design process with the same successful results. Construction documents are a detailed and organized set of drawings and specifications that record the many decisions made and information gathered through a (thorough) design process between the client and the architect. In some ways leaping directly into construction drawings would be like a doctor providing a prescription or treatment plan without doing the diagnosis.

Yes architects can provide the necessary documents for your project whether it is a commercial or residential project. Now quoting a specific fee requires a bit more information. We will have a few questions first.

We’re good at questions.

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8 Responses to “doing blueprints and get some plans”

  1. Robert Ross Says:

    Nice post. I’ve got a dunning letter I need to write and your timing is exquisite! Thanks

  2. Richard W.C. Balkins, Building Designer Says:

    Hello,

    Very good article. I am a building designer and I do the same thing. I produce construction documents at the end of the design process. It is why it is called “building design service” or in the case of the person designing the building being an architect, it be called “architectural service”.

    I don’t do the old blueprinting process that is a cyanotype printmaking process. In those days, it was before the advent of xerographic copiers (aka Xerox copiers). Today’s technology makes that process more a novelty. As for why they chose cyanotype versus a number of other printmaking processes in the say is white lines on blue background works well for indoor and outdoor environment due to not being too glossy that bright sunlight reflecting on bright white paper tends to blind you. Hence, why reading black text outdoor in bright direct sunlight might be too hard to read. Especially with the brighter white paper that is available today. Now, we can see color paper used that is slightly pastel yellow, or green or cyan color. The ideal is for readability in construction environment. White lines also appears well in dark environment but today’s printers generally don’t come with white ink.

    Blueprints is now largely an informal term used to technical documents we called construction documents. (Reinforcing for readers). First and foremost, I produce construction documents as part of building design service. I produce and make copies for the permit review and the builders. The client does not get the construction documents but what is known as an “As-built” set that is performed after the work is done. I may produce an “As-built” set of an existing building before a remodel or addition is made and a final As-Built at the end. The reason for this is the one done before is to document what is. when we begin. Then I produce a final set at the end for what it is at the completion of project.

    As-Built sets would take into consideration change-orders and so on. If it is built exactly to the construction documents without reasonably measurable deviation then I would produce an additional copy of the construction documents. The builders usually gets copies and at the end, I will collect the permit copy and any additional copies made deal with it. Since construction documents are copyrighted material that is owned by the Architect or Building Designer NOT the client, clients aren’t buying a commodity but a service and does not hold any ownership to the design. Construction documents are INSTRUMENTS OF SERVICE. Unless otherwise, granted by license or an outright transfer of the copyright ownership is made by written contract, I retain full ownership of the design.

    Retaining control on these matters are important part of keeping control over liability exposure. If you let a client do whatever they want with it, it can expose you to a number of liability issues that can be very costly.

    Clients should be fully aware that an Architect or Building Designer are NOT employees of the client but contracted by the client. Therefore, works performed are not “works for hire” as you don’t really hire an architect or building designer but contract. Hiring is a term used to mean EMPLOYING. Hiring is another word for employing. Employing means an employment relationship.

    This is a lengthy response but also to be informative in nature for those who are not Architects of building designers.

  3. Roxanne Button AIA Says:

    Thanks for the article, Lee. I find a similar lack of knowledge with commercial clients. One client has come back to us a year after we last met and claims that I didn’t “draw what we wanted” the last time, with the idea that he won’t have to pay our fee (still unpaid, btw) if he didn’t like what he got. The fact that I spent hours with him to get the plans exactly as he said he wanted them seems to have slipped his memory. Educating clients is a huge priority, in my opinion. They don’t seem to understand how much work we put into their projects, and the value that our time has. This has everything to do with your statement that we offer a service, not a product. And that service comes at an hourly rate!

    • leecalisti Says:

      Thanks for lending your opinion and support. I’ve had to respond to the questions from my past three posts so often, I thought I’d answer them once and for all and point people to them in the future.

  4. leecalisti Says:

    To those of you new to this post, I also posted it on a discussion on LinkedIn. It is part of the ARCHITECT Small Practice Subgroup. One may need to be a part of that group to see it. There are comments there also. http://linkd.in/rsBeWB

  5. steven amu Says:

    “I do blueprints and a whole lot more. What would you like?”

  6. Narelle Says:

    Thanks for a very informative and interesting article about your profession.


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