In our last two posts we looked at drawings as a thinking device and that they tend to develop from very loose and abstract images to defined, scalar representations of the building or space. Today we will look at examples of what most people identify with, the definitive drawing. We will jump ahead in the design process to images that are more complete and beyond most of the conceptual or exploratory phase.
Pardon the esoteric, but I believe drawing is a graphic language and by language I mean it is a means of communication with a logical construct in which one can clearly understand the speaker (author). Every drawing does not serve the same purpose and every drawing has a different audience. I also believe drawing is a language that has a sense of grammar and syntax. Therefore, its logic ought to be followed in order for there to be clarity for the viewer or the reader.
Once drawings become more precise, the parts (of speech), become more precise and in order to be understood, they must follow the common set of rules and degree of detail or information based on the scale of the drawing. As in any language one must learn it and practice it in order to be fluent in it. Fortunately, I have found that most people have the ability to begin to understand it with a little explanation. For instance most people can understand a door symbol to mean a door. However, if we break it down it is somewhat of a rule breaker. The door leaf itself is shown because it is real and it is visible. However, the door swing is shown as an arc but it is not visible. It is an abstraction included to clarify that the long skinny rectangle is in fact a door and the arc shows the door swing direction and the amount of space taken up by the action of opening a door. This may sound simple perhaps trite, yet all drawings take on this degree of ambiguity between the real and abstract. It is in our hands to manipulate that language within the rules to lend clarity.
Let’s start with the floor plan as an initial example since it is one of the most powerful ways of understanding space since its horizontal relationship corresponds directly with our understanding of spatial organization. We stand on the earth and look horizontally to move from space to space. The plan’s general purpose is to give the overall size and relationship of parts and can serve as a roadmap for the many subsequent drawings in a traditional architectural set. However, we have three drawings below of a master bedroom.
This image was prepared to show the client the room size and by placing furniture in the room, it gives scale and demonstrates how the room functions.
This image is from the construction drawings to show the contractor the dimensions needed to frame the walls and other relevant information. It is also a road map to direct the contractor to where other information about the elements that make up that room can be found.
This image is also from the construction drawings of the same room. However, it is overlaid with the roof framing members that actually appear above or behind the position of the viewer. It shows the carpenter what members make up the roof framing that sits directly above the room. Talk about abstraction and a sense of ambiguity.
The understanding of the audience is a critical consideration when preparing a drawing. So often our drawings are personal and not meant for “public consumption.” Nevertheless, it is important to keep this in mind so that the proper degree of clarity is present in the drawing for the intended audience. This is linked to what are you trying to communicate with the person reading the drawings – design, color, relationships or something technical?
Here we have two elevation drawings. The first was shown to the client the latter a fragment from the construction drawings intended for the storefront installer.
If we leap ahead through the process of design and documentation we find ourselves at the detail sheets in a set of drawings. Details also have a point and an audience; usually, the audience is the contractor and in many cases the audience is also certain sub-contractors. We may debate about how one would construct a set of drawings (pun intended) and what information should be included on each drawing. The quality of the drawing also comes into question. After all these years of practice and my many interviews with contractors, I have learned quite a bit about what information to include and where this information can be found in the set. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing learning process.
Here is one simple example. This is a typical door jamb detail. Its purpose is to tell the reader (general contractor and finish carpenter) how the door gets inserted in the wall along with what trim or finish work gets included. Nothing else is included (or ought to be) in my opinion. Other information should be found elsewhere in the set. A reference may be made but I believe if you keep putting the same information on every single drawing over and over again, errors and inconsistencies are likely to occur. I worked for someone in the past that wanted to note every material on every drawing. I don’t think that demonstrates an understanding of audience or purpose.
The last example involves electrical drawings. This consideration works for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural, but I like to use the electrical since I spend much time coordinating them with the architectural. Often the specific placement of fixtures is critical. We draw the fixtures on architectural drawings (interior elevations, sections, etc.) to show their relationship to the architectural space. However, it’s unrealistic to think that the electrician is going to look at anything except electrical drawings. If you need to communicate dimensional or other specific information about electrical fixtures, put it on the electrical drawings.
In this particular drawing, see how we wanted the electrical outlets in the kitchen to be installed horizontally about the counter. I’ve shown this on the interior kitchen elevations, but if it is not included here, it “ain’t gonna happen.”
The process of making and documenting architecture is rapidly changing despite my strong opinions otherwise. Regardless, what is not changing is communication between people. If we want to be understood clearly, we must communicate in a manner that addresses the purpose of the communication (in this case a drawing) and acknowledge our audience. We must follow the language’s rules. From there, it doesn’t matter what type of architecture you prefer or what tool you use to make it.
Every drawing has a purpose. What is the purpose of the drawing you’re working on right now?