how does an architect design?…part 3 document

Let me lend my apologies for being absent for two and a half weeks, but I’ve been drowning in cranking out actual work than producing my typical sarcastic drivel here. I have a few topics brewing, but I finally took a break from my work to share with you…what else, my work. I am currently in the midst of construction drawings on several projects.

With the internet full of architects striving to find a way to explain our value to the public, I find one way to accomplish that is to merely explain what we do on a day to day basis. Yes we are known to design a thing or two as architects. However, in order to have someone build our designs, we spend a large portion of our time producing construction documents (working drawings, construction drawings…and as much as I hate to use this term…’blueprints’.). Of course the most accurate term is contract documents since they are a large portion of the documents that form the contract between the Owner and the Contractor, but I digress.

This is how we take ideas and sketches, after refinement and document all of the details required for someone to build it. Besides being perceived as technical drawings that cause your eyes to cross and remain hard for the average bear to understand, there is an art as well as a science to producing good construction drawings. It is important to understand that we don’t just sit down and draw them from left to right and top to bottom. They are developed over a period of time and not in a linear fashion. However explaining that is not my point.

So to explain construction drawings to someone who doesn’t make a career of it, let me offer three important considerations in their development.

Integration – Anyone who has seen any type of detailed technical drawing has seen the basic floor plans and details, however, these bed sheet size pieces of paper are more than a series of lines and text, but a unique language where architects communicate the scope of the project to a contractor. As mentioned before, every part of the building must be integrated into the set and appear in a location that is helpful for the contractor to find. Beyond integrating the building components into the set of drawings, the drawings are actually a design tool for architects where we look at the building in great detail and work to integrate each part of the building into the overall whole. For instance, we design, draw and document how the structural components will blend with the mechanical, electrical and plumbing components such that none of these items compete for the same space. Modern software and modeling methods are helping with this. One of my favorite things to do is to show mechanical, plumbing and electrical items on my architectural drawings. For instance in my building sections you will often see the ductwork shown and I almost always show the lighting fixtures. I think of my drawings as design tools and it’s important to draw (and see) exactly what the space will look like with the lights, grilles, pipes, etc. shown in the space. Plus, it just looks cool and I can verify that the ductwork won’t conflict with the steel beams.

Coordination – Not only do we lay down the ink on these endless sheets of drawings, but they actually have to mean something and work. In addition there are a multitude of systems and components that make up a building. As the drawings progress, someone must be responsible to coordinate that all of the drawings have a common and consistent theme and the information on one sheet is consistent with the information on all of the other sheets. For instance, if you make a statement on one drawing that the floor is blue, but on two other drawings you state that the floor is red, the contractor is not going to know which one you want. Guess what, you’ll get the cheaper one and/or the one you don’t want. Therefore, one of the most important tasks and skills of an architect is being able to pour through all of the drawings and make sure that they all agree with one another and there is consistency. Again, computer software does help this process and can do some of the mundane aspects of coordination; however, any good architect knows that this task relies on an intelligent human being to ensure that all of the building aspects are well coordinated.

Specification – If you know anything about architecture and technical drawings or documents, you might think that the specifications are boring, hard to understand pages of information that nobody reads. Well, you’re right…sort of. Ok if you’re a spec writer, don’t send me hate mail. No, seriously, the specifics or specifications are where we can describe what we want in terms that are not vague or ambiguous. In other words, if you order a meatball sub with cheese, you don’t get a cheeseburger or a cobb salad. I admit, I don’t cherish writing long documents, but what I do enjoy are the specifics of choosing and noting door hardware, light fixtures and other visual design elements that give the space its impact. One day last week I spent all day working through a door and hardware schedule for a project. On this single drawing there are a series of schedules and details that describe every door, every door knob (lever) and every piece of door hardware down to the pulls, kick-plates and hinges including manufacturer names and metallic finishes. It takes much research. Earlier that week I marked up my engineer’s drawings where I reviewed and edited every light fixture and the plumbing fixtures and faucets. To me, this is where we integrate and coordinate our design intent and vision for the project in the specifics. This makes the contractor’s job easy (at least it should) and it eliminates surprises when we show up at the job site. In other words, we’ll get what we paid for because we were clear in what we asked for on the drawings.

So if you’re not an architect or any other design professional that develops construction drawings as part of their job, I hope you can appreciate the amount of time and effort we go through to develop our designs down to the utmost of detail. I also hope you can understand why we must do this. Lastly, I hope you understand why you’re paying for it (gladly of course).

Now if you read the past two posts about the design process (parts 1 and 2) hopefully you’ll see the amount of effort we take to take an idea out of thin air and develop it through a process until a building of some sort emerges on the other end. If I’ve ruined the mystique for you, you can go back to believing we have magic wands and pixie dust and we’re all creative geniuses.

how does an architect design?…part 3 document

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