what do the drawings say?


This is the first answer every architect gives to any question asked in their hearing, especially questions asked while a project is under construction. (For the record, paper doesn’t actually speak audibly). What do the drawings say?

Truly, I cannot emphasize this enough.

Screenshot 2016-06-22 09.15.59.png

This has come up far too often lately and it is a common frustration for architects when anyone on the project team acts based on what is assumed, remembered incorrectly or imagined without consulting the drawings or specifications. We’ll just say drawings for simplicity, so spec writers don’t criticize. I do mean construction drawings in this post rather than design drawings or other design sketches used for other reasons.

Anyone who has hired a contractor needs to demand that they are consulting whatever documents have been created and as an Owner ought either to check them or better yet – have their architect regularly reviewing the project.

Otherwise, you might as well open up the window next to you and just throw your wallet out. Get it over with already.

No one can remember every aspect and every detail of a project once the documents are completed and submitted. The reason we create documents is to provide an accurate record of all the decisions that were made previously.

Therefore, one of the quickest ways to frustrate an architect is not to build what’s on the drawings for any reason. There’s simply no excuse for it, unless there has been some process where an alternative decision is made (in consultation with all team members).

Yet, in the past few weeks I’ve had several scenarios where things were missed, ordered incorrectly or overlooked because someone didn’t take the time to read the drawings.


It is a common practice, I hate to say, for contractors and even owners to build what they think is on the drawings and to build from memory rather than use the drawings as a regular source of information. All parties need to pore over them frequently to find the correct and accurate information. I expect the contractor building the project to study them and to know them as well as I do, the person who created them. Now, just because someone is thinking it, there is a process of communication to review, consider and make adjustments. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore that avenue for now.

Drawings are important and the reason architects develop and create drawings is the obvious fact to record the millions of bits of information needed to communicate to others what and how to build.

Simply put drawings (and specifications)

  • illustrate design intent to communicate to owners, contractors, municipalities.
  • are part of the official contract between the building owner and contractor (therefore called contract documents).
  • are an organized method to allow estimators to generate a bid or estimate of the work (quantify building materials and labor processes).
  • are a means to allow plan examiners to determine compliance with building codes, zoning ordinances, and other regulations (comparison).
  • are a record of design decisions (with written language and with graphic language)
  • are a means to indicate dimensions and locations.
  • indicate adjacency, assemblies and relationships (between parts, materials and components).
  • describe a building in its final form (shows intent and destination).
  • often indicates partial assemblies in interim stages (clarification of partial assemblies).
  • are a record of convenience (face it, we all forget quickly) and legal consequence.

We don’t need to remember what is on the drawings when we can reference them. We shouldn’t try to remember everything, we should simply reference it

Screenshot 2016-06-22 09.15.52.pngThe next time someone asks a question, YOU ask a better question. What do the drawings say?

what do the drawings say?

9 thoughts on “what do the drawings say?

  1. Hi Lee, this is, yet again, a great read. I must have been following you now for, say six years’ish, since I qualified as a UK Architect. I now work alone (I’m the only employee in my company, Irvinejonesdesign.co.uk) and now have a large and varied workload which I enjoy immensely! It is good, although not for you having to suffer the issue, to read your posts and know that there are others out their, all over the globe, having exactly the same issues. Please keep up the good work of blogging. Kind regards Dan Jones.

    1. That’s much appreciated. I have a fondness for people on the “other side of the pond” as my Mum was a Brit. It seems things are even more regulated in the UK than in the US.

  2. carywesterbeck says:

    You’ve done it again, put my own thoughts down clearly in your excellent blog, Lee. This issue, sad to say, is my most consistent and vexing problem in daily practice: GCs and their subs who don’t build from or consult the drawings enough, or at all. Indeed, we always ask them: “…did you look at the drawings? I carefully designed and detailed that, and I didn’t do it just for fun.” One of my goals this year is to be very selective about the GCs I recommend to clients, ensuring I work with the ones who respect and follow my drawings. Some are great about it, some not so much.

    1. Agreed, but even with good team members, everyone gets lazy. It’s a constant babysitting effort to get the desired results. Then we’re labeled as high maintenance.

  3. dwmarc2014 says:

    Great post, Lee. Let me add this: On a large residence, the case for Architect’s const admin is to increase the odds that the GC and subs are paying attention to the drawings, or not redesigning the job in the field! Sometimes it is not disrespect. It is that minds wander off the page, esp when it involves cross referencing a big set of docs. One needs to implore owners on this point.

  4. Just recently I went on a site visit to find that the contractors had printed my drawings, hung them on the wall, and then drawn over them. They built their version of my drawing because it was easier for them. I am relatively new in the business (ID) and I know you have to make regular site visits, but I was expecting mistakes, not blatant disregard for the drawings!

Please leave a reply, and consider sharing this with a friend.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.