How to be good at Detailing


Any suggestion how to be better at detailing ? I am in residential architecture. Most of my coworkers drawing look great . Any idea how I can improve on those skills ?

Nov 13, 17 9:14 pm

detailing and looking great are two things.

Nov 13, 17 9:45 pm

Can they be BOTH!


Go to the building site and see how your drawings translate into a building, it's an eye opener.

Nov 13, 17 9:53 pm

+++  What randomised wrote.  Knowing how materials actually go together into an assembly put together on site will make you a better designer of details.

My first trip to a project under construction for which I'd drawn and redrawn a whole set of architectural and structural details was a great education.  ("Ohhhh... so that's what that line means...")

Nov 14, 17 2:44 am

Given that its not always feasible to go to site on a consistent basis and observe the ongoing process (IE - I can only get onto my site about once every two weeks at best), are there some good resources that can supplement site observation as well? Im approaching licensure in the next year or so and still often find myself struggling to get a totally 'right' detail drawn.

Nov 14, 17 4:36 am

It helps to talk or consult with suppliers (who normally provide shop drawings) and builders (the people hired to actually construct it) how this connects with that, and etc. Then check Graphic Standards or the google how materials and these details are represented in drawing (or you can make your own just make sure to provide a legend or callouts). 

Nov 14, 17 6:11 am

The suppliers/vendors are more than happy to help you learn the details, and they even will bring lunch. Detailing is never static the science and best practices are constantly changing/updating

Look up the manufacturers' details for the things you're detailing. So many times we try to just make something up when it has already been done before. Call up the rep or have them come to the office and ask as many questions as you can think of. Can this touch that? How do I transition from this material to that one? Why do you need that bead of sealant there? In what order does all this get installed? If I do this, will it be warrantable?

Nov 14, 17 8:49 am

Agreed, I was trained to go to sweets catalogue for mnfr details, especially now adays they have 'em in pdf, revit, cad & skethcup most times

won and done williams

Actually, this is why in my opinion detailing has gone downhill in the last 50 years. If you take an off-the-shelf detail, you get an off-the-shelf result. Banal curtain walls everywhere. Banal hung ceilings. Banal column covers. Banal millwork. Good detailing is far more than just picking stuff out of a catalog.

won and done, I agree and disagree. Detailing has gone downhill in the last 50 years, but it isn't because people are choosing off-the-shelf details. It's because they don't know anything about the materials they are detailing. 

You have to start somewhere. The vast majority of the problems I see in detailing aren't because the designer is trying to come up with something new in order to be innovative, it's because they are trying to come up with something (period). The lack of technical knowledge and acumen then result in poor details because the designer doesn't know enough to even get started. 

So start with the off-the-shelf detail. Then, call in an expert (the manufacturer's rep), and learn from them ... you may learn there are important functions in the detail you didn't even know about. Then, if you really need to modify it to get to a different function or a different design aesthetic, hack the detail to suit your needs. Finally, check with the expert again to make sure it is within budget, buildable, and warrantable.


Obviously you modify the detail to fit your specific scenario. but imho manufacturer details are a great place to start besides your detail library or similar office project. "Great artist steal my friend" . another help to me in my career besides working w/ some great mentors is joining local csi chapter. monthly speakers shed a ton of light for me on various construction techniques and info

won and done williams

I would recommend Ed Ford's Details of Modern Architecture. Wonderfully drawn - and instructive about how materials go together by the masters.

Nov 14, 17 10:44 am

thnx will check it out


If you're into Dutch architecture, it's in English, and features projects by Herman Hertzberger, MVRDV, UNStudio, Rem Koolhaas and some others:


details? we don't need to learn no stinkin

Nov 14, 17 11:21 am

That is what I tell my clients when they don't think anything is worth money right before I fire them.


Thanks everyone for insight.. Yes going to site has been an eye opener. My goal is to learn to create a very solid set of construction document.

Nov 14, 17 12:21 pm

Starting point: Ed's book and Graphic Standards (those details are debated and vetted).  Not just graphically but understand why things are adjacent or detached from one another.  Go through the upper tier manufacturer's details (Julius Blum for railing CR Lawrence for glass rails, etc.).  Also study shop drawings and make friends with contractors and trades people - the best detail is one that conveys good information in a graphically clear manner (and include the correct notes).

Look for graphics - clarity to show each information that is critical in a manner that is easily understood by the GC/CM to coordinate trades and is clear to each trade.  Details should also be organized in a manner that it is easy to find during construction.

Correctness of information and identifying what to exclude as well as what to include.  This can conflict with clarity: tightly overlapping items may be pulled apart for the clarity of drawing.  Vocabulary and proper identification of materials (and coordination with specifications) is not to be overlooked.

I would advise that it's important to see why an off-the-shelf detail is done the way that it is before trying to reconstruct a different approach.  Whenever possible find good mentors in construction management and architecture & engineering to hear all the various perspectives.  One pitfall I see with younger architects is the tendency to speak with subcontractors and the trades without understanding how they work together (window installer, mason, framer at a window to wall detail/ but forget to waterproof and close out the seems between each).

Note that there are ways to 'make it work' and better/best.  Also, at times, speed of construction can affect how a particular detail might be done.

Nov 14, 17 1:01 pm

Keep it simple... it's harder than you think and try to learn about construction and the sequence of how stuff gets installed on site.  The exposure to the real working conditions will open your eyes to why some details just work better than others.  Look at bad details too and learn why they are bad or why they fail.  

Nov 15, 17 3:39 pm

Another tip is to investigate buildings that you love and see how they are put together and why, try to find out as much as possible from those buildings, visit them, read up on them and check the website of the architect and the builders and manufacturers that made it happen. A good project is often used for PR purposes by all parties involved, you can find some valuable insights about a project from the builders or facade manufacturers and the innovations they've implemented.

The German Detail magazine (they are bilingual, so no worries) mostly features high quality projects and themes (solid timber, prefab concrete, energy efficiency, etc.) and has great drawings you can study. Any office over here (NL) that is into quality building has some of their magazines on shelf, and to even have your work featured is a real seal of approval. I have worked at places that have their work featured in it and at places that didn't manage and you can clearly tell the difference.

Nov 16, 17 3:12 am

thanks all - have already ordered Ed Ford's Details of Modern Architecture!

Nov 16, 17 5:45 pm

what’s the difference between details and minutia?

Nov 16, 17 9:29 pm

What separates children from men

Sam Apoc

Liking these book recommendations...

Any suggestions on a good book dealing with heavy timber / wood frame construction methods?

Nov 17, 17 10:03 am
Sam Apoc

Nice. If only I spoke German...

Did not know that Detail published some of their stuff on Issuu, however, so that is good to know.  Thanks!

Found this on their issuu page as well:

Just an excerpt, but some useful diagrams in there.  May purchase the full book.


They should have a Timber Construction Manual in English and their magazines are bilingual.

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