Creations and Analysis Out of Boredom

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    How to Read Drawings 101 [USA]

    By I am a liberal
    Jul 22, '17 7:44 PM EST

    Twenty (20) years ago (1997) as incoming freshmen students we were told by academics – “You’ll learn construction drawings and contract documents when you get a job, but if you’re interested there always is Architectural Graphic Standards and D.K. Ching and exam study guides.”  This is still the case today. 

    They also told us “Most of you will not graduate as architects, most of you will not ever earn your license, possibly none of you will ever run a firm, and most importantly you’ll never make much money.

    There is a direct correlation between those two statements.  Moreover, if a generation ago young budding architects were told - you’ll learn all you need to know in practice so no need to cover it in school - what are they teaching now considering most that teach have limited experience in practice and were told the same thing a generation ago or more.  Why would anyone expect to graduate ready for the profession they were not trained for? Why should you expect to earn any money if you graduated with no basic skills? 

    You can think outside the box, but can you draw that?

    The debate: Architecture Academia versus Practice is so common and discussed so often there is no need to belabor it anymore.  It’s also a boring discussion, so I’ll just bring you up to speed by reviewing portions of a set of drawings that are about 80 years old.

    Let’s start with the basics - theoretically academically.  In practice everything an architect does converges into one set of documents – CD’s (a.k.a Construction Documents & Services).  Technically CD means Contract Documents, but they usually are Construction Drawings.  In these drawings there is the accumulation of design, intent, liability, guidelines, instructions, code and zoning resolutions and confirmations, consulting engineer and vendor design and data, and the cost of a building.  Its more technical than this, but the details of this process and production are what you’d learn in practice, no?

    The drawings below from 80 years ago cover all the basic parts of a typical building and are coordinated in the form of a 2D drawing that most members of the industry (construction) can read and build from. 

    [The Eldorado, not the drawings below]

    Emery Roth and Sons did a lot of work in New York City and there is a good chance if in NYC you’ve walked by one of their buildings where cornerstones were engraved with this architecture firms name on it.  Instead of a cornerstones now it’s about exposure on the web.  Chronologically, between the cornerstone and the web there were those things called magazines and monographs! (such a short phase in history, the coffee table is so lonely on the web).  You probably know The Eldorado from photos of Central Park.  Emery Roth and Sons work is  noteworthy and the likes of Paul Goldberger have covered their work in the New York Times.  The drawings we are reviewing, construction drawings, are stored in a collection at Columbia University.


    [below is a play by play with some modern day Revit definitions, I will be channeling John Madden on this one]

    [Titleblock - This is where you put the title of the project in a block, lines that frame in the information, but in case you went to architecture school and did not learn this, the city of New York will help you - click here]

    [9A and 10A are columns.  You want to know more, go to the column schedule Step Up 7" means the step going up to the terrace is 7" higher than the floor.  7'-9" head means the top of the door is 7'-9" to the top of the door.  Those circles with two lines in them are Duplex electrical outlets symbols.  That's two places to put a plug in a wall to charge your i-phone (Androids rule).  Apparently 80 years ago a WP = Water Proofed outlet is what we now call GFI or GFIC (Ground Fault Interrupter Circuit).  Throwing a toaster in a bathtub never works out for the person in the bathtub.]

    [F.P.S.C. - Fire Proof Self-Closing.  This is a door that is fire proof and closes itself.  One diagonal in a box is a vent, those are vent shafts.  When you go bathroom you want to exhaust the bathroom.  The air has to go somewhere, and in buildings it's usually up to the roof, unless you have a better idea.   A Stack is a bunch of pipes in the wall, connecting a a stack of plumbing fixtures on multiple floors to vents and sanitary risers (drains).  There is the letter "C" next to the Stack, this means you go over to the Plumbing Riser Diagram to see where shit flows, by engineers these days (although this is easy enough an architect can do it and the code tells you how to load a stack anyway).  And that elevator is a Service Elevator and you see that little thin rectangle the opposite side of the doors, that represents those counter weights and pulleys.  Elevators have evolved since, but remember you always need room for the mechanisms that move the elevator up and down, it's not magic.]

    [That triangle, even today, typically represents some sort of Data/Low Voltage, in this case, I'd guess an Intercom.  That's where someone rings a door bell at the entrance and a low voltage current travels through the building to the apartment causing an audible signal to let the tenant know someone is trying to contact them directly.  These days though, the buzzer can go straight to your phone (Androids are better than i-Phones), so you could let your friend into your apartment while being far far away.   Gas.  Gas is a fuel that can be used for cooking.  There are also gas riser diagrams, see above on plumbing riser diagrams.  Gas supply is all about pressure, distance, and cross section area of a pipe.]

    [#26 is a?  Those dashed lines indicate the 10"x15" duct at the ceiling, it's overhead, so when you cannot see something in a drawing, you use dashed lines.  It's either hidden or above if you're looking down.  A floor plan is a section looking down. Interesting enough, stairs can go up or down from a floor plan.  Those arrows and notes let you know which way the stairs are going.   Then the #R and #T represents the Rise and the Tread. Steps go up = Rise.  Steps go out = Tread.  There is always one more riser than tread in all staircases. Prove me wrong!]

    [The drain above runs over to a stack in the wall and then goes down the riser.]

    [Lawyers read and write, architects draw.]
    [Lawyers read and write, architects draw.]
    [Lawyers read and write, architects draw.]

    [You see that, you soiled yourself and it's down the 4" line just next to the duct moving over and round the duplex outlet.]

    [The water gets to the drain by sloping down a pitched roof towards the drain.  There is code for this too, no engineer necessary if you can do simple math.]

    [ Dimension Strings.Let's ask Revit. Start with the small stuff when close to the building and at each new dimension string cover a larger important area, ending with the building's absolute overall dimensions.]

    [80 years ago they knew what Data was.  Now what is a House Trap?click the link. I bet you didn't learn about this in school, did you? Your cool prof probably referenced Deadmau5 when you asked them...]

    [A window schedule is when you know the windows will be opened and closed.  You believe me? Really? Why would an architect ssss-shejuule anything that way! Or ask Revit.]

    [Redlines.  That shit your boss does when they think your drawings suck, or they could just be suggestions to think about something?  What is a Hatch in a drawing.  It's that pattern you draw in between lines to represent the material you are cutting through in plan (section).]

    [Note it out.  Size of oil tank and capacity, note it out.  Too much involved in drawing it - Note it out.]

    [True story.  When I met the manager in this building in the Manager room, there is no Carriage Room (2017) as these Redlines (in blue) indicate, I asked about his baseball bat leaning next to the door...

    "You guys getting ready to play some baseball I see?" -me
    "No, just security." - big dog super]

    If you read Architectural Graphic Standards, D.K. Chang's books, learn Revit and read some building code, and learn to draw you can theoretically academically become an architect, which begs the question - why did you go to school?


      1 Featured Comment

      All 10 Comments


      Awesome post!

      Jul 22, 17 8:00 pm  · 
      Featured Comment

      Really nice post, Chris.  The topic is so important, and the drawings you focus on are both excellent examples of working drawings, but also gorgeous works of art in their own right.

      Jul 23, 17 10:39 pm  · 

      "[Lawyers read and write, architects draw.]"

      So, quite lengthy post, you a lawyer ;-)

      Most architects tell nonarchitects what to draw in my experience. Nice post, keep 'em coming. When are you going for you bar exam?

      Jul 24, 17 2:47 am  · 

      They don't necessarily care about good drawings but only use the drawings to get to good architecture. They will express their design intent and others will have to figure it out according to the rules, regulations and within budget obviously. On some projects you don't even deliver drawings any more but a BIM model. Didn't know they had pub exams, only know of pub quizzes :)

      Jul 25, 17 3:28 am  · 

      That closing story about the super and his "security" is awesome, as the kids (used to) say.

      These ink-on-linen drawings are nothing short of delicious, as anyone who's ever done a complete set by hand can tell you (even if only in graphite on vellum).  I love the hand-lettered notes and precise dimension strings using arrowheads.

      Doubly fun is the subject: one of those gorgeous, hulking Manhattan apartment houses where each unit is a few thousand square feet, complete with foyer, library, bed "chambers" bigger than modern studio apartments, and several (tiny) servants' quarters.

      And who wants to wager that "B.F." is boiler flue, not boy friend?

      Jul 24, 17 9:48 am  · 

      so basic.  but necessary in the digital age.  to me, it is like a kid's book - learning how to read. hopefully, my team members will understand why I get so frustrated when they tell me "that's how the detail came up in revit" after I ask them about that abstract concept of line weights.

      Jul 24, 17 12:03 pm  · 

      My first couple of sets of CD's were by hand (working for an older engineer) and I would do it again. It is so meditative - the artwork is. Not frustrating like CAD and the electronic lines, not so artful, just is. 

      Jul 24, 17 12:44 pm  · 

      Beautiful, dense drawings with gorgeous hand dating from a time when drawing was recognized as a craft in itself, when a draftsman was a craftsman. 

      Thanks, Chris -

      Jul 24, 17 11:14 pm  · 

      Awesome post dude!  Love looking at old drawings.  

      Jul 25, 17 10:59 pm  · 

      As an intern I spent quite a bit of time scanning old plans of existing buildings we were doing work on. It always amazed me that an entire school (for example) could have been built with only a few dozen sheets of drawings, yet to do that same building today we'd be producing well over a hundred architectural drawing sheets alone, then you'd add structural, landscape, MEP, etc. Plus, throw in well over a thousand sheets of specifications, agreements, general conditions, instructions to bidders, etc. It's amazing anyone can make sense of our projects today. Or maybe the point is that no one can make sense of our projects today. I've seen a lot of RFIs lately that would support that. 

      Jul 26, 17 11:59 am  · 

      I think about this every day. During my first internship, I had the plans for a 10 story building - one of the finest - built in the 1910's on my desk. It was only a few sheets. Then there are the drawing sets that are over 1/2" thick of stacked paper, plus a thousand page manual. And that's just getting us started. What is up with that.

      Jul 26, 17 2:12 pm  · 

      To me, this unfortunate state dramatically illustrates two things.

      1) The decline in number of qualified builders and tradesmen.

      2) The steep rise in number of lawyers.

      Jul 26, 17 8:00 pm  · 

      One of my favorite drawing sheets ever has a floor plan at 1/8"=1'-0" of a 4-story science building built in the 1920s on a local college campus.  Good workaday plan, not terribly elaborate but nicely drawn, dimensioned, and noted.  The only other item was a half-scale (6"=1'-0") detail... of a door jamb, I think.

      So on this single sheet was a small scale representation of the whole building next to a hugely scaled representation of one tiny component of the building.  Just those two graphic items.

      For some reason, that juxtaposition blew my mind a little.

      Jul 26, 17 7:59 pm  · 

      4 stories and 1 plan? nice.

      Jul 26, 17 8:50 pm  · 

      LOL. One of four plan sheets.

      Jul 27, 17 1:39 am  · 

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Boredom as a result of too much to do.  Too much professional practice architecture.  Too much reality. Lots of fiction and lots of history.

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