small projects :: documents


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.

Schematic Design
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.

Screenshot 2016-10-31 20.55.13.png

Construction Documents
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).

Screenshot 2016-10-31 20.52.09.png
this current project barely makes it…and I’m not happy about 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.

Screenshot 2016-10-31 20.48.35.png
this is one of two or three sheets of specifications

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?

small projects :: documents

5 thoughts on “small projects :: documents

  1. Cary says:

    Your process is remarkably similar to mine, in almost every detail. Once again, it’s like you wrote this from my perspective, but that’s not surprising since I’m also a small one-man shop. My standard sheet size is 22×34, and that’s only because I print 11×17 half size sets in my office for everything I can. I learned this from my previous employer, a storied Seattle firm with solid processes in place. I haven’t had a full size set printed in a few years now, though the GCs still print full size to build from on site. Like you, I just PDF everything around, and almost every jurisdiction I work with around here (Seattle area) now accepts digital permit submissions, so I can do everything from my desk. It’s fantastic. I still print 11x17s and give them to clients, print my record sets, bring them to site meetings as my main reference set, and use them to sketch over with flimsy. I also haven’t done a separate spec in many years. I’ve moved to the specs on the drawings, though I’m looking to crib someone’s drawing sheet specs (such as yours) so I can edit and build my own in a more complete fashion. Great post, keep up the good work, Lee.

    1. Thanks Cary…great minds…as they say. I’ve often considered the 22×34 format; that’s been known for years. However, I can’t seem to give up the extra space. Maybe I need to reconsider.

  2. One evolves and adapts. When I changed over from pencil drawings to CAD I immediately saw the cost savings in no longer purchasing print paper for my odorless printer in my home office, nor the rolls and rolls of canary yellow “bumwad” for sketching overlays of 24×36 prints I could make at time of the day or night.

    CAD still allowed me to work at all hours, do various versions depending on concept and direction of approach. CAD allows me to see 3D models instantly of what I design and draw in 2D.

    My sets for my client meetings are still 24×36 prints, which I think gives my clients the sense that their project is for real. The canary yellow “bumwad” still comes out during client meetings for sketching ovelays as necessary during discussion.

    I find that clients react positively to 24×36 prints. canary yellow “bumwad”, the short 6″ long Architect’s scale, and the black Flair pen.

    As to specs, I include them as the last sheet in the set. I have a boiler plate spec which I developed over the years, continuously tweaking as the codes change, as technology and industry changes. I add and delete items as the project dictates.

    The City of Chicago requires submittals to be emailed in for review. Most other surrounding municipalities still require printed sets signed and sealed for submittal. Depending on the GC’s size I email PDFs for their review, use and printing, or I email to the local printer, order a number of sets for the GC to pickup for their use.

    I imagine that I will eventually give up my flat file which is where the originals were always stored until they went into the cardboard roll files. I still have banker boxes filled with manila folder files for each project, but even those files are not as thick they use to be with much being stored on sticks.

    We evolve and adapt.

    1. We do evolve and adapt; it’s helpful to hear from other architects. I don’t ever plan on giving up my yellow bumwad (the correct name despite where many will vehemently disagree), my pens and pencils or my short 6″ scale. I do like using digital tools and I hate using digital tools. It just is.

  3. This is where we have to be fluid as an office…we spend so much time pouring detail into the hefty documents for houses our clients like us to design, that when we get a small project it can be difficult to decide what to do without.

    We do mainly second homes with a contractor on board early on, and we tailor the design and documentation process so the owner has the flexibility to change things at any time. Our spec binders are usually issued after construction starts. They are really just schedules and cut sheets for applicances, plumbing fixtures and light fixtures…and appliances, accessories, you name it.

    Presentation drawings are usually 11×17 photoshop and sketchup images made from a combination of hand drawings and revit. They tend to end up in a bound SD packet made up in indesign. We spend tons of time in DD with most clients, but not on small projects. Dozens of meetings and documents of all kinds. Dropbox and GoToMeeting. 24×36 CD sets. By the time we get that far we have probably had 50 meetings. Really. I counted. On a couple of projects.

    Small projects are another story and it can be hard to detune. We will cram in a dozen sheets where other offices would do half or a quarter of that. Because we can’t help ourselves and because detail always matters. And I can’t live without keyed notes for that reason. Presentation format will be whatever works. Sometimes just pencil over a blueprint of existing. By the time we tell their permit is ready we have probably had a few to a handfull of meetings. We try to get everything done on 11×17 and maybe get by with a 1/4″ enlarged plan for critical areas, or use 12×18 for meetings and issue 24×36 docs. We can do all those formats in-house (office of 3). And construction will probably be pretty informal vs issuing a binder’s-worth of sketches

    And I don’t say bumwad anymore because of the confused looks that I try to avoid!

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