Q: How do documents (drawings, specifications, presentation images) work for a small project?
This is part of an ongoing discussion about work in a small office and with small projects. I can’t say I’m answering for anyone other than my own firm. However, I hope to engage more than architects along the way today. If you’re not an architect, but have hired one or are considering hiring one, perhaps this can be useful to you especially in knowing what to expect.
Let’s explore this a bit.
Early in the design process, one can expect to see less formal, more sketchy drawings. That’s what this phase is all about after all. Explore the big picture, the broad issues, avoid the minutia, discover the questions to answer.
In my office, it’s possible that I will create drawings by hand in some instances; occasionally they are a mix of digital and analog (look that up). They are loose, quick and non-committal. I find my clients respond well to a smaller sheet of paper. I watch them get closer to them, spin them around and can easily print them on their own. Since my projects are small, it’s common to see drawings on 11 x 17 sheets – one might even see scanned images and sketches that I’ve placed a title block on just to be professional. I prefer 11 x 17 sheets as they are portable, appear less formal than large construction sheets, and I can create them in my office without going to the print store.
Just last week, I created several hand sketches because I was studying site options and I found it quicker to draw by hand knowing the computer would cause me to be more precise than the drawings needed to be. I didn’t need to answer all those questions yet.
There are several comments to make here, but it’s not necessary to delve into minutia just to lose my readers. What is important to know?
Floor plans fit neatly onto the sheets – Why does this matter? It’s not something I chose, it’s just been that other than one project I did two years ago where I had to use 30” x 42” size drawing (i.e. bed sheets) to fit a large building at 1/8” scale, my construction sets are generally 24” x 36” sheets where the floor plan happens to fit neatly at 1/4” =1’-0” scale. Face it, large drawings are hard to control, they must be rolled out on a large flat surface and they can be heavy. I find my clients relate well to drawings that are no smaller than 1/4″=1’-0”. This translates well for the elevations and sections too. No match lines are required (I’m not translating that).
Number of sheets – I’ve heard architects talk about their drawing sets that have 100’s if not 1000’s of sheets. Who can keep track of that? In my career, I can’t remember any one project going over a hundred sheets and quite frankly, they rarely go over fifty sheets. The last several commercial rehab projects (3,000 to 10,000 sf) that I’ve done in the past few years typically have around 30 to 40 sheets per set – that includes the MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering drawings). On the other hand, I did design a 350-square foot addition last year that had eighteen (18) sheets. The contractor found that excessive, but he couldn’t say any one sheet was superfluous. What might be curious to know is how many sheets do I have per building square footage versus a larger project. I know one of my last projects had only 28 sheets for about a 2,700-square foot renovation (not including the exterior or the 2,700-upper level that wasn’t renovated under the first round). Simply put, that is about one (1) sheet per 100 square feet of project.
Specifications – This might get some of my architect friends worked up. Lately, I’ve been placing my specs on the drawings. I’ve created several sheets at the beginning of the set that include the written specs. I’ll admit, they’re briefer than my earlier days, they cut out the boiler plate (did you ever read that stuff and wonder who included it in the first place), and I typically write proprietary specs because I know what I want, so I ask for it. For the project size that is common in my office, book specs cause more harm than they prevent. I understand why we write specs, but nobody reads it until I ask “did you read the specs” and they artificially inflate the cost of the project. I’ve often found that the spec books don’t get circulated (other than in the port-o-john), and it’s another stack of paper to carry. If I can open the contractor’s roll of drawings and point to a spec section, I can hold him accountable. All I know is it works for me.
In my world, we still use paper, but with a small project we have less paper. We email PDF sets; we exchange submittals electronically with PDF files and final sets of CDs (construction documents) are typically issued electronically (no more leftover bid sets laying around the office). I rarely get full sets made anymore other than for submission for code approval and an occasional set for the client. Most contractors get the final sets emailed to them and they email the sets to their subs.
Let’s face it, paper gets expensive and my son is too old to color and draw on the back of the unused sheets of paper.
What was your experience working with your architect?
What has been your experience in your practice as an architect?