Construction Methods - How Are They Learned


How do you learn / know construction methods?  For example, how a flat roof is constructed, how different wall types and the joints where they meet floors, ceilings, etc. are constructed for varying situations, how a rain screen is put together and attached to the wall, etc. etc. things like this.

It seems architecture school neglected this info - focusing much more on the whole design/conceptualizing studio, and even the construction program as well despite being more so technical based, aside from the very basic information.  Being unable to land a job in the field and learn this info from repeated working exposure, is there another way to obtain information like this that is required to detail/annotate drawings?  There must be a way to learn this on your own?  How do architects piece together their structures, what are they referencing for the info???

Is there a book with loads of detailing info as to how typical structures are assembled to reference; sample drawings, etc.?  If so, please let me know.  I don't want to blindly buy books because they seem good -  I did that before and they held little practical info that was actually new to me.

Apr 30, 13 4:52 pm

architectural graphic standards

Apr 30, 13 4:56 pm

It just depends what level of knowledge you are looking for:

Do you want to know that a rain screen has to attach to the building structure?

How the rain screen attaches to the structure?

What materials the attachment detail is?

What hardware and installation specification to use for a specific attachment?\

Each of these is a different level of knowledge. Arch Graphics Standards will get you through the first two, but for the higher levels of fabrication knowledge, nothing beats experience. 

If you can't get a job in construction, you probably don't have a pulse.

Apr 30, 13 5:12 pm

i would think the only real way to learn it is to work with someone experienced that can teach you.  unfortunately, most college professor's experience is related to something other than architecture.  if you can't work for an architect's office, maybe working for a contractor or one of the material suppliers would provide insight into at least their part of how stuff works.

even if you're sweeping up after them, you can watch how stuff goes together and surely there will be someone nearby to answer quick questions you might have.

Apr 30, 13 5:15 pm

Lots of professors have real experience. It's just hard to teach in school when the focus is on the big picture.

The details of construction are best taught by doing a real project. And then doing it again. For about 5 years or more. After that you'll be set.

If you can't wait, try working through projects on your own. Use detail magazine and downloads from manufacturers websites as reference and learn what you can.

Apr 30, 13 5:38 pm

First, it does vary by school, and I have heartburn over this.  Unlike most learning in which you go from the trees to the forest, construction needs to be taught in reverse - from the big systems picture and then onto detailing.  An optional course in construction documents is always refreshing to see.

Architectural Graphic Standards is a good tool, but I've found it does not address every condition.  The other method is to look at manufacturer literature.

You are absolutely correct.  The detailing of roofing and exterior skins is not addressed sufficiently in school, except in calculating thermal values for the exterior envelope.

The ones that are aggravating are new trendy appendages in design, such as the onslaught of upward sloped entry canopies and decorative appendages at the crest of a building.  Typically, this involves a a combination of working with the SE and their recommended attachment methods, details found in the literature, extrapolation of your previous knowledge, and sometimes just plain asking someone who plain knows more than you do.

Construction knowledge and constructability are essential to being a good architect, of which art is only a part.

Apr 30, 13 7:48 pm

go online and find some home renovation shows (not the hgtv crap, but the ones where they actually build stuff).  at least for residential construction, they do a good job of showing you things and it tends to stick with you more than if you read it in a book.

graphic standards is good if you're doing actual detailing work for a set of drawings.  if you want an all encompassing book on building construction i'd recommend this one:

Its a textbook, but a really good one.  It tells you about basically EVERYTHING.  my professor in school recommended it when i was voicing concerns about feeling like i was not learning enough construction in school.  It's not a catalogue of details, but it will give you a really good understanding of how all aspects of a building go together.  its the course material they were supposed to teach you in your materials and methods class until they got sidetracked with pretty pictures and green roofs.

Apr 30, 13 7:58 pm

Thanks for the recommendations.

Regarding the fundamentals of building construction book, I actually had owned this one at one point - it was the textbook for my methods and materials course.  I didn't find this book helpful in regards to providing info as to how to actually construct your structure.  It was good if your are looking to gain an general understanding of things, but not for actually knowing how to put these methods of construction together/detail them in working drawings.

Apr 30, 13 9:29 pm

I really hope you're in your first or second year of college, and haven't graduated school without having a clue about even basic construction methods.  I have a hard time believing there are schools out there that don't even tough on this topic ever.  We had to draw details and prove our understanding of construction right from the first year.

Anyways... here is something you can start with.

Fundamentals of Building Construction - It will give you a general idea of the processes of constructing a project, not construction detailing.

Wood Design Manual

Timber Construction Manual

or any of the Construction Detail manuals by Birkhauser

If you really want to get into the construction stage, like you were going to build it, get a copy of 'Construction Tolerances'. ;)

There are a heck lot more books out there..

Apr 30, 13 10:34 pm

We had to draw details and prove our understanding of construction right from the first year.

By our second construction course, we were into detailing and saw quite a few different conditions.  When I showed my portfolio to prospective employers and included a few examples of these drawings, they told me that they didn't have that in their coursework in architecture school.  Yikes. I would have loved to have taken an elective course focusing only on construction drawing and detailing.  We had some practical electives, but not on that topic.

Apr 30, 13 11:31 pm

i've honestly learned all my detailing from work.  nothing in school, except for a semester long contract docs class senior year.

Apr 30, 13 11:38 pm

Back in the day, you were a working drawings drone during intern years as well as summer jobs during school.  That was how you picked it up.  I would try to get your hands on some sets of drawings, and just study, study, study them.

May 1, 13 11:18 am

I'd also say to do field/site visits under construction and look at the building.  Take some notes, reverse engineer how it goes together.  You might even try to build a few things following the methods and details.  Sometimes we forget, that its the guy in the field that has to get things built and sometimes swinging a hammer or cutting a board crystallizes everything. 

May 1, 13 2:53 pm

Thanks for the further recommendations.

When I have the extra money I'm going to purchase graphic standards and hopefully that contains a lot of helpful info.

May 1, 13 10:37 pm

Sometimes we forget, that its the guy in the field that has to get things built and sometimes swinging a hammer or cutting a board crystallizes everything.

Haha.  So true.  Doing it gives you an appreciation for what the work involves.  I remodeled a condo I used to live in.  It had a nasty ceiling texture all these dark woods, cheap baseboard, and flat doors.  I painted the walls a parchment color, the ceiling white after scraping it and fixing cuts with sheet rock compound, added taller baseboard with a profile which I painted white, and changed out the interior doors to the 6 raised panel variety.  It was the first time I'd taken on a project to overhaul an entire dwelling unit.  (Hired help for the electrical stuff and some of the plumbing fixture stuff).

May 1, 13 10:47 pm

Well, some schools are design schools, while others are technical. I believe most of us wish we had more technical knowledge, but then why not get a engineering degree to begin with? I drew a true construction detail only once in school. B+

Fundamentals of Building Construction is a very useful book for what the OP is asking about if, and only if, they read it. It's thick and heavy--I know--but if you scan over every word I guarantee everything will make a lot more sense.

Maybe the OP should buy "The Architect's Studio Companion" to learn quick methods. 

May 1, 13 11:30 pm

Work construction. Any practical job site experience will put you light years ahead of 99% of the architects out there.

May 2, 13 10:45 am

Oh yeah, architects in training and architects:  don't get too cozy with the contractor.  We had a situation on a strip mall remodel where an addition required some demo at the tail end of one of the arcaded walkways.  The contractor wanted me to tell him where to make the cuts for demo while I was on a site visit.  Read the drawings, mofo - the dimension is called out as "field verify."  Remember:  you are supposed to design something that can be built, but they are responsible for the means and methods, including verifications of dimensions when something like that has to be done in the field and not in the architect's office.  I've got all kinds of stories, so I'll spare you.  However, one learns why the relationship between architects and contractors is often one that is strained, and the contractors do most of the straining.  My 2 cents.

May 2, 13 12:02 pm


Thanks for the further recommendations.

When I have the extra money I'm going to purchase graphic standards and hopefully that contains a lot of helpful info.

You do not own a copy of Graphic Standards?  =o  You must be kidding.  If not, that is a real shocker.  How do students even get through undergrad without having flipped through graphic standards.  

May 2, 13 2:33 pm

^ The contractor does most of the straining, trying to implement the architect's idiocy and getting blamed for the architect's mistakes. Which isn't to say there aren't any bad contractors, or that all architects are idiots.

I've been on both sides, and now design / build.

May 2, 13 2:36 pm

I did learn a lot of that stuff in school, taking classes in means and methods as well as construction detailing. But I also worked summers in construction, first as a bricklayer and second as a carpenter. Makes a big difference.

If you want to learn how buildings go together, build something.

May 2, 13 4:18 pm


Beats me.  I have a 4 year degree from a well known accredited school.  I did very well in my coursework, and yet this wasn't something necessarily required.  It was mainly all concept / design - having to spend all day and night in a studio cutting up chip board models or making a non-detailed revit models ( as in, omitting most of the construction details - ie. using general walls, etc. but with a finish put onto it) or on curriculum that mostly had nothing to do with architecture ( you know, those liberal education requirements that all colleges force you to take to jack up your tuition.  So I took as many construction courses as possible to supplement as many of those as I could, but those focused more upon managing rather than building.  Still, the construction courses were 1000% more useful in regards to building than the architecture courses were.  But they did not provide a means to know how to design many different instances of construction either.

I took a methods course which was supposed  to ( it had the prior year and all prior to that ) have included drawing a set of construction documents - go figure, the year I enrolled into it they changed the curriculum.  I took it upon myself to draw a set up based upon a text book set from when I attended community college to ask the prof about them - he was surprised I knew how to do a set as presented ( and it was not a full set  - floor plans, framing plans, roof plan, sections, site plan - but no electrical, hvac, plumbing, etc. ) and he said this was basically what we would have had to do.  Despite this, it was based on a cookie cutter design, only providing some instances of construction detailing obviously.  Most of my ability to do this set came from a single community college course I took prior to transferring to the accredited school - and that was because I read through and studied the entire course textbook on my own ( which was the most useful text I had been required to purchase IMO )

Nothing related to the business side of architecture was covered either; ( except for the fact that they like to continually reinforce that you have to work 80 hours weeks for low pay)  something the construction courses went into MUCH greater depth with.

I believe that the school I attended focused on real construction documents in their graduate program.

May 2, 13 4:43 pm

it is hard to imagine any school that can teach enough about the real job of architecture regardless of their focus, technical or artsy or otherwise. It just takes a long time in the real world to get the experience you will actually use. there are no shortcuts.

i'm not sure what i would prefer from new graduates anymore.  more willingness to push personal boundaries as a designer is really a big one, followed by some ability to organize dwgs and to think a detail through. but i don't think schools are failing the profession by not teaching how to put a dwg set together.  they fail for other reasons perhaps, but that one is not on my list. i am curious if other folks with own firms feel the same?

May 2, 13 7:09 pm

is good

May 2, 13 10:05 pm

i took a construction management course (estimating) in leu of an architecture elective my senior year.  in order to estimate, you actually have to know all the steps of how things get built.  most informative construction class of my entire college career.

they made me take way too many humanities and social sciences... social psychology, u.s. history, art and theory, 18th and 19th century lit, science fiction lit,  public relations... what a waste of time.

i wouldn't have traded any of the design courses, but i would have easily replaced the above mentioned electives with purely construction based classes.

May 2, 13 10:39 pm


The presence of a construction management program, usually under the same roof as architecture, and sometimes over in engineering, flavors the architecture school ... in a good way.

Yeah, what are you going to do about general ed?  However, it varies by school, with some schools having a slimmer core of general ed and others a lengthier core.  The lengthier the core, the less opportunity for a minor - maybe even construction management, as you pointed out.

I took a year of construction drawing courses at night at a comm. college while working the year before starting architecture school.  Then, a practical arch. program followed by AutoCAD at a comm. college again, after finishing, and I was able to be fairly productive in an office.

May 2, 13 10:47 pm

I think its an ancient science called "reading". i have heard about this. you go to this thing called a shelf and grab an object off of it called a book (Graphic Standards, Sweets Etc.), and you open it up to the index find the topic and so on and so forth

May 3, 13 4:29 pm

yeah but you would think that 50-100k of schooling would get you through at least the basics of what you signed up to learn.

May 3, 13 6:07 pm

Architectural education.

An oxymoron right up there with Military Intelligence and Congressional Ethics.

May 3, 13 6:14 pm

Speaking of reading s=r*theta, did you catch in the original post that I ended in asking which books actually contain useful construction detailing examples ( as that was ultimately the answer I was seeking ) without blindly purchasing publications that look useful but really are not.  ..

For example, the methods and materials book was recommended within this thread, but I owned this, read it, and consider it basic general knowledge - it wasn't something I was looking for, but had I not already known this I may possibly have wasted money on it.

May 3, 13 6:14 pm

the military knows a damn lot of information.

May 3, 13 6:50 pm

Information is not knowledge. Either military or architectural. 

May 3, 13 8:40 pm

and i suppose you're gracing archinect with both.

May 3, 13 9:03 pm

detail magazine is pretty good. graphic anatomy by atelier bow-wow also useful for small scale construction if you are interested in clever details by real architects.

when i was starting out in office i read technical books on each field.  waterproofing the building envelope, concrete mixing and detailing, steel construction, insulation standards for each construction type,etc. Also read all of the canada national research council material from the 1950's onward.  great reading if you are into the technical side of things.  there are a lot of research documents for building science available online if that is your thing - really amazing resources and knowledge is so easy to access now.

One book is not going to cover what you need except to explain how it goes together in general way (not a bad thing). If you want more information than the general knowledge stuff go to the library and read whatever you can - and try to get a job that will give it meaning. Without a real project to apply what you are learning to I don't see how any of it will actually make sense.  It will remain abstract no matter how well it is written.  You'll end up like a cook who knows lots of recipes but has never actually seen an oven.  Worse you might think cooking is about the oven and the recipes, not about the food (which is why all the culture courses are important).

May 3, 13 9:16 pm


I plan to apply the information to home designs I currently already have done, ultimately creating full working sets for them, and learn that way because there has been no luck in landing a job within a firm since college ( and its well past then now ) - perhaps there would have been better luck if I were open to relocating ( but I am not )

May 4, 13 3:22 am

Bah. Architectes ne construisent pas des bâtiments, ils conçoivent eux. Comment faire pour empêcher l'eau est le problème du constructeur.

May 4, 13 2:03 pm

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