Why still so many architects don't accept technology (example using iPad instead of paper blueprints) on the construction site?


Is it difficult to learn a new program, or app that they stumbled are expensive, or they dont have appropriate tutorials, or it's something else?

Any thoughts?

Jan 31, 13 10:13 am

This is a bit flippant, but: I like physical objects.  That a lot of why I became an architect.

Jan 31, 13 12:22 pm
When I pick up a roll of drawings that says Smith House, I know what's in it. Grab and run. Same with a file.

When I get to a site with a tablet and realize that neither I nor anyone else copied the Smith file from the server to the device or Dropbox or sent it via email, all I've got is a pretty thing on which to write notes until I can get back to my office for the drawings and files.

Also being flippant. Sort of.

A tablet can be useful. So far, though, it's just a different way to do similar things. When what it offers is both transformational and indispensable, we'll get on board.
Jan 31, 13 12:34 pm

there is no reason you can't get files from your server onto your tablet through a remote connection.  i do it on my phone (i don't have a tablet).  i suggest webdav.  21st century people.

Jan 31, 13 12:55 pm

In the OP's example - iPad vs. drawings on-site - the iPad screen is just too small and the device is just too fragile to be of much use on a construction site. Paper is cheap and disposable. You don't have to worry about getting it dirty, and it doesn't cost you hundreds of dollars if it accidentally gets wet or bent up. Paper may be an old technology, but it is highly refined.

Also, having to look at everything through a tiny screen is tunnel-vision inducing.

As Norm Abram will tell you: use the right tool for the job.

Jan 31, 13 1:00 pm

iPad's dimensions: 9in x 7in. What do you expect to see with those tiny dimensions? Even the details wouldn't fit in there.

Jan 31, 13 2:13 pm
On the fence

Paper plans are 36x24.

Tablet is 8x7

Fun times on site I am sure.  Might work for small tenant finish out spaces less than 1500 sq. ft.

Jan 31, 13 2:20 pm

Most promising tool available to make this happen try their damnest to lock you into a contract with proprietary technologies. Paper printout is still open source.

Jan 31, 13 2:21 pm

this little gadget will fix small screen size sometime soon:

expensive and proprietary.  everything we look for in technology.  maybe not that useful, but pretty cool nonetheless and cool is what architects do.

by the way, you guys know it's possible to zoom with a tablet right?  it's close to the size of a regular sheet of paper, so equivalent to taking notes.  except, you can pan and zoom your notebook and have a pdf background to draw/write over.  pdf is an open format.  adobe doesn't control it the way they used to, so proprietary formats aren't that big of deal.  it's not the solution to everything everywhere, and it isn't going to build the building for you, but it does have a place for those that may want to communicate something.

Jan 31, 13 2:40 pm

We use iPads in the field more than drawings. Heck, most contractors use tablets now. Yes, you can zoom for can dimension on screen...and make markups that aren't unreadable as your drawing is being blown around the jobsite.

I look forward to the day where we can turn in digital models to the permit office and be done with paper all together. 

Jan 31, 13 2:50 pm

Save paper.  use i-pad.  then pour 100000 tons of concrete.  go green!  lmfao

Jan 31, 13 3:00 pm

hey if we can just save one tree, then we have an obligation to try it

Jan 31, 13 3:03 pm

True but I Hate green washing.  I Love green. 

I once knew this fat guy that ate mc'donalds everyday for lunch...he always got a diet soda with his meal. (not a diabetic) He just felt better about himself for it.  Maybe this little psychological easing allowed him to continue eating his big mac meals  until he finally dropped dead of a heart attack.  Point is, green washing will kill us all !!!  

Jan 31, 13 3:17 pm

I don't understand how it would really be possible to work exclusively off ipads.  They're great for getting changes out quick to CMs, but then again so are smartphones.  To really describe a building with current methods requires big sheets of paper that people can read, share, and comment on without have to worry about firmware version, OS compatiblity, or other tech related BS.  

Feb 1, 13 1:40 am

I also love physical things, that is why still reading paper books on my couch with hot chocolate and marshmallows. But it's because it's sort of emotional attachment to the whole "my time-don't disturb me" experience.

At work, it's different. It should be quick, effective and low-cost. Already printing plans everytime is costly and not eco, just going through what has been done, what was wrong and what has to be done and who is in charge and when he/she should submit corrections has to be done digitally.

Sometimes, I hear "yeah, but I have to take all my notes on the site, than back to the office I need to put them into mail, than look for photos, oh, it's a hell" no! just get use to take notes on your iPad and send them together with photos and plans with drawn modifications on the site to all concerned people! Why bother more??

Feb 1, 13 3:43 am

What is also "eco" is resting your eyes from time to time. Ipad doesn't use e-ink like Kindle and when you look at the screen for long periods of time you get eye strain. You already spend at least 8 hours a day looking at the computer screen. Sometimes it is good to take a break and just look at a paper. That's how people read writings/drawings for hundreds of years so they're used to it. iPad is definitely not suitable for architecture/construction work. Someone needs to come up with a bigger at least 15-20" e-ink screen.

Feb 1, 13 4:00 am

The purpose of iPas is mobility, why do you think they came up with iPad mini? and not iPad maxi? :)

When you are on the construction site, in the dirt and concrete, you really honestly have fun with huge paper blanket? :))

Feb 1, 13 4:05 am

"When you are on the construction site, in the dirt and concrete, you really honestly have fun with huge paper blanket? :))"

Paper can get re-printed. Watch when an iPad gets dropped on the floor, gets dust inside and bites the dust. :)))))

Feb 1, 13 8:17 am

I think it's not a lack of general acceptance or whats "fun" or not, it just depends on what situation you are really in.

What the others already said...
It's one thing walking around on site with my client and discussing the progress with the aid of a tablet. Or having a meeting in the site office and talking to the client/contractor/fellow engineer etc. We all use a mix of devices and paper plans/files there I guess.

But when I'm actually on site -"in the dirt and concrete" - talking to bricklayers/roofers/drywall builders/.... we normally chat about stuff with the aid of THEIR own copies of  paper plans. Which are often full with comments. I'd rather look at those huge plans pinned to some wall than to pinch the hell out of some tablet with ten impatient building workers standing around. :)


I'll take it you are in the App business.....

Feb 1, 13 8:21 am

Sony just unveiled a 20-inch tablet recently.

Honestly, mobile computing at this point in time is to sell you essentially a mobile arcade. And like an arcade, the whole thing is designed to rob you blind one quarter— in the 21st-century a dollar— at a time.

As a business manager, I've been unable to find a single decent invoicing and billing system for a mobile device. Something that easily creates invoices for one time payments and invoices for monthly billing statements simultaneously.

It's also quite surprising that no one— Microsoft has come close— has made a decent functioning and full-featured spreadsheet software, like Excel, or a basic databasing app, like Access.

And let's not even get started on the fundamental basics of complex business management— there isn't a single mobile job management app or a project management app that's anywhere close to being usable for any mobile device. I'm sure they exist but I don't do work for any company that has the budget to afford the sorts of proprietary software that run upwards of $100,000+ that can do these things.

Too long; don't reply — mobile computing is little more than a gimmick and a little less than practical for anything other than playing Angry Birds and watching illicit videos at work.

Feb 1, 13 8:44 am


Indeed, as you say, every meeting member has his OWN plan version, with his OWN comments and pins on it. Imagine how simple it could be having just ONE latest version for everybody and cetralize all pins, and comments, and photos of mistakes on the site, than create a list and dispatch and delegate what has to be done by who. All this paper carousel that you find personally ok and the only way to work creates a lot of mistakes unfortunately, and time-consuming - to compare all versions and put together all comments together - wow!

yes, you spotted right I'm into this business, that is why I truly want to understand architect's roadblocks, to help.

Feb 1, 13 9:12 am

james, the app below claims to run a virtual computer from your tablet or smart phone and includes open office.  open office calc should do pretty much anything excel does.  might be worth a try.

it seems to me you don't want a database server on your phone.  maybe a database client to query a normal database.  i'm pretty sure such a thing is common, but it would be tailored to work with your database.  you may know more about this than me, but quickbooks mobile as an example will connect to a remote database right?

if you're thinking a tablet isn't useful unless it can replace a server, then i'd say you are trying to make a tablet do something other that what it should be doing.

i thought tl;dr means too long; didn't read.

Feb 1, 13 9:43 am

Alfiya, when I was working on larger projects I always had a paper Desk Set (drawings and spec books) on which I recorded decisions made during the process - and the *only* notations that went into that set were decisions that were made, with notes and sketches and any additional info taped on as needed.  At the end of construction you then had ONE document  that contained everything related to the project, which was important for legal liability issues later.

My problem with trying to do all that on a tablet is that I frequently touch a touchscreen (my phone and ipad)  in the wrong place or at the wrong time and thus, with a tiny stray contact, launch actions that I don't intend to.  If I had a Desk Set on a tablet I can guarantee you it would not get through the construction process without the file being accidentally changed in ways that would be impossible to track.

I do all my measured survey drawings onsite with a laptop so at the end of the measuring process I have a plan ready to use. And I make construction process walk-through notes on my phone then email them to everyone, which is fine but doesn't really save me time as I have to clean up the notes to send anyway (the phone keying lends itself to typos and auto-correct disasters (e.g. "the tile layer did not come today because his daughter is dick" instead of, obviously, sick) so transcribing them from a piece of paper to an electronic format via a real keyboard is easier, for me.

All tools have their place. When we stop using humans to build and isntead get to makerbots that build the building up like a coral reef then we'll have to use tablets, and that will be fine.  We're not there yet and probably won't be for another several decades, by when hopefully I'll be retired!

Feb 1, 13 10:01 am

Donna, that auto-correct example cracked me up. You should have sent it that way, it's so charming :)

I just realize that size does matter. I wouldn't mind having a tablet with the size of  - let's say - a drawing board on site. Of course I'd need some entourage to carry that thing until one day there will be those tablets which are thin like paper and rollable oder foldable. (I know there are already prototypes)

Feb 1, 13 10:58 am

iPad? Why not just use your iPhone?

Feb 1, 13 11:07 am

Miles Jaffe,

iPhone or Ipad it's the same. The thing is that a lot of people is opposed to the technology :(

Feb 1, 13 11:13 am

There are more enlightened contractors and job sites where on each floor they have a big steel storage trunk inside which is a 42" screen and a networked connection to the BIM model. The whole thing is on wheels and can be rolled and plugged in where needed.

This is the future and all architects should eb embracing it. Now this obviuosly only used on a big jobs where having 100 or so large HDTVs is just rolled into the opperating costs, but I dont see any reason that this could be scaled down for smaller jobs.

Feb 1, 13 11:51 am

and you can use this on your iPad:

Feb 1, 13 12:25 pm

you'll understand when you become a real architect... I'm assuming you've never had to sketch on trace either but only work on computer.  I feel sorry for what you're missing out on.

Feb 1, 13 2:54 pm

i feel sorry that you think the way you do things is the only possible way to do things.  you're missing out on a pretty big and interesting world.

Feb 1, 13 3:39 pm

mathewwebb that does sound like a good setup. If everyone involved is embracing it then that's obviously the way to go.

Feb 1, 13 4:43 pm

Job sites are dirty and dusty. There is no way an ipad would last long on site. Screen would be destroyed an a day.

In my opinion, It's not a matter of construction workers necessarily being scared or inept, I just don't think it is practical. 

Ipads need to be charged, you need wifi, files need to be uploaded, software installed, and not to mention that it might walk of the job site when someone leaves it on a table. 

Also, drawings in a set can be separated out, giving millwork drawings to the millworkers, construction plans to the carpenters, you can't do this with an ipad. Just not practical.

And who still calls them blueprints?

Feb 1, 13 5:18 pm

alfiya - i don't think it's a question of 'technology' or no 'technology'. it's that there's multiple kinds of technology and the best places to use them.


for your kind of software (and matthew's), it's easier to keep track at the 'office' level - meaning, the project management level. everyone keeps track of document changes, updates, tasks, whatever. but, here's the rub when you get to the actual site: yes, it's dirty. but more than anything, the sub-contractor (the actual person who's pouring the concrete or installing the windows) wants 1 and only 1 set to work from. and, quite frankly, the best way to accomplish that is with a physical copy on the site. it's the proverbial rosetta stone that everyone can refer to if there's any questions or discrepancies. 


keeping a digital set that is constantly evolving.... that's the superintendent's responsibility. but even they are going to go nuts if they wake up every morning and 10 or 50 changes have been made and he's got to figure out how to make sure they get printed and distributed to the right parties. again, his sub contractors are looking to the master set, not an ipad.


so, it may be you're hearing two different things: one is, yes, the options that are available are only getting better, but until we all get buy-in from everyone in the process, it's largely going to be a way for us manager types to communicate more effectively. which is still moving forward...

Feb 2, 13 9:31 am
chatter of clouds

on construction you mean right roaming around the site or at the site office? in the office, for a comprehensive oversight, for coordination studies, for checking of potential conflicts...yes paper, large size. just haing these phsyical things around you to cross refernece with each other, having say a large A1 of the architectural plan next to a large A1 of the ID plan to verify that the ID have based their work on  the latest architectural revision (assuming that the transfer of info was not smooth for any reason)  is much more useful than cramming views within a small screen.

however, if you do know what you're after...a detail say, or a specific part of the plan...and you are not going to do anything but refer to it, i would say ipad is less cumbersome.

however, on site, i know how dusty things can get. i would hate to be leaving finger prints and dust marks all over the screen...would feel yuky. however, i know its also a pain to carry oversized paper around. i would say that for inspection sake, roaming around the site,  an ipad would probably be much more effective than paper...especially if one can for instance, leave geo-located inspection notes(and how nice if 3 dimensionally) for the contractors perusal.. and of course to check the site condition against the shop drawings.

so, i see the validity of using both for different purposes. why not use both?

note: i dont use ipads at work (or anywhere else for that matter - smartphone for personal use only). so,  the above may very well be delusional.

Feb 2, 13 10:08 am

For a group that usually worships all things apple, this resistance is hard to comprehend.

I guess no one wants to give up this iconic look...

They do make rugged cases and thicker screen protectors for just this sort of thing. Almost 5 months on site with my current project and not a single iPad has been damaged yet.

Tablets pay for themselves when you can photograph the actual condition that is shown incorrectly on the drawing set, tag the photo to the plan and then insert the proper dimension directly on the photo with an app. All done immediately from the field and changes are made before I even get back to the trailer. 

Feb 2, 13 10:54 am

lits - yes, that kind of documentation can be great. but.... you're passing that on to the PM or, at best, the super. if you expect that your document is going straight to the subcontractor who's going to fix that problem, well....  it's not. 

i don't think this was the o.p.'s complaint - that we don't have tools that can document issues quickly and more comprehensively. it's a question of who's using them, where and when. what you've just laid out is a great way 1 person can do their job better. does that inherently translate to the rest of the team? 

Feb 2, 13 2:31 pm

@ LITS4FormZ

I just love your answer! True, true, true.

Feb 4, 13 4:32 am

I've also been advised by my company's insurance agent not to do that. When we become the keepers of the contractor's documents we take on additional responsibility and risk. For instance, if the contractor adds notes or instructions to their subs regarding means and methods, we don't want to see that, because we'll be asked to comment on those, and that's outside of our scope of responsibility. The reason that architects don't always want 100% of the information that contractors have is that it exposes us to additional liability. Even if we're not explicitly asked to comment on something, if it's present on a shop drawing or in your example in these digital documents that are automatically updated, gives somebody the ability to say, "but you knew about this and didn't say anything to stop it," when we all know full well it's something that's entirely not our responsibility.

Feb 4, 13 11:55 am

i don't think you want to use a tablet in a way that allows you to keep making changes to the record set as the building is getting built.  i think that's what some people seem to be suggesting.  you also don't want to use paper drawings for that.  at some point the architect has to let go and let people build the building.  i know that many architects like to keep screwing with things, but it really isn't a good idea.

i can understand rationalist's 'keeper of the document' concern.  there should be one and only one record set that is modified only by the contractor or site supervisor.  i would think in theory that could be digital or paper; it's a question of responsibility, not format.  the architect shouldn't be making changes to the drawing set while it's being built anyway.

on the other hand, we do CA and site visits to allow us to comment on things during construction.  so to say we shouldn't be able to see contractor notes on means and methods sounds to me like we should stay away from the site altogether and not do CA.  unless the only concern is that there might be a paper trail.  that's simple enough; don't allow the design staff to edit drawings.  communicate what needs to be communicated, and let the contractor edit the drawings as appropriate (with a pencil or tablet).  an don't go changing stuff that shouldn't be changed. 

the possible benefit of a tablet as i see it is you can carry a small light weight thing and reference anything from your office's pdfs of the permit set, codes, ada, email correspondence, google, etc.  also angry birds.  i don't think a little dust will kill a tablet.  i've seen little kids playing with i-pads and i-phones (and my phone) and they're at least as dirty as the worse construction sites i've seen.  if you have kids, just accept you need  a screen protector and it needs replaced every now and then.  if you're worried about dropping the tablet down an elevator shaft, just hold on to the thing instead.

Feb 4, 13 1:43 pm

curt, my concern is more that, if contractors are making edits, and the architect has constant access to them, as would be implied by automatically-synching updates, that the scope of what the architect can be held responsible for could balloon dramatically. In a site visit, you are there for a certain period of time, you are shown certain things, you inspect things you need to inspect, your time is up, and you're done. Having constant access to every note the contractor makes could become like a site visit that never ends, thereby imparting a certain degree of responsibility for the whole that the architect is neither willing nor able to take on.

Feb 4, 13 7:59 pm

I think augmented reality could become really useful for idiot-proofing tricky details and such.  The high cost of using expensive, fragile tools on a work site has to be balanced by a high reward.  AR could definitely be that high reward soon.

Feb 4, 13 9:32 pm

Use drones, you'd never have to leave the office.

Feb 4, 13 9:34 pm


I have an impression that you want to hide your responsibility of the project behind messy papers :) Are you not bugged by unhappy client when the something is not done, or wrong? Was it documented digitally or on paper, it stays. The difference is when it's digital, it arrives at your inbox and you assign it to somebody and you pass to action.

It's easier to deliver something mediocre and when say "oh, you know, maybe you spoke about this to me but I can't find it in my notes".

Feb 5, 13 5:32 am
le bossman

people use them increasingly, for instance for as-built drawings.  but not every sub can afford a gillion ipads that will only get ruined, are expensive and are way too small.  you can write notes on drawings, you don't have to take care of them, etc.  besides, if the inspector shows up on site, he wants to see a hard copy stamped set.  this will probably never change.  

Feb 5, 13 10:22 am

"I have an impression that you want to hide your responsibility of the project behind messy papers"

I have the impression that you could care less about the practical problems of your potential customers. And that your software product is 90% pure hype. Direct quotes from the promotional video:

"without aproplan documents keep piling up"  LOL Does this product  magically prevent document creation?

"today it's almost impossible to retrace the history of a project"  As if professionals have never been able to successfully managing complex projects ...

Sorry. It's not 90% bullshit, it's 100%.

Feb 5, 13 11:02 am

Yeah technology needs to make lives easier. As a marketer you need to show people how your product can benefit people, listen to them and use your empathy to understand their needs not create a thread to bitch about how stupid/arrogant they are. People are not stupid they just don't want to deal with any extra complications. Apparently you and your folks haven't done any user research or usability testing at all. Fail!

Feb 5, 13 11:29 am

rationalist, i agree with you.  there should be a line between the architect's responsibility and the contractor's responsibility.  this should be based on time (when the architect hand off drawings for construction) and tasks such as means and methods.  you don't want some sort of implied connection between you and a decision made in the field that you may either have no knowledge of or no business interfering with a sub's expertise. 

i think that should be easy enough to address as far technology goes.  just don't mess with stuff outside your scope.  i suppose that might idealize it a bit though.

Feb 5, 13 11:32 am

Alfiya, quite the contrary. I'm simply trying to illuminate the real business and legal issue that pops up in your proposed app. As curtkram says, it's something that can be handled, but it needs to be handled well or else every insurer will tell their clients not to use it and architects will be terrified of the scope creep it leads to. It's not a matter of trying to get away with the building being inferior (we actually have extremely high standards where I work, but hovering over the contractor is truly not productive) , it's simply a matter of time management and scope creep, which are huge issues when it comes to not only liability but also keeping your firm in business from a financial standpoint. We're hired to do certain things, the contractor is hired to do certain things, and they constantly try to get us to do more and more things that we are not paid for and put us at risk, because those things should be the contractor's responsibility to see to, not ours. If you dismiss this concern as someone trying to get away with building an inferior product, you'll be overlooking a major pitfall. As curtkram says, it's important to keep the boundaries of responsibility clear, or an architect could easily get sucked into doing much more work than they can handle from either a liability or a time/budgeting standpoint.

Feb 5, 13 8:24 pm

rationalist, what I'm trying to understand, is that you was just advised not to try it and use construction management software and you followed the advice, or you tried indeed couple of applications and made your conclusion itself? After all, there are many factors that define if you need technology or not: your costs on paper printing, how do you organise your meetings and communicate and dispatch remarks etc etc. It depends also on country and how should you communicate your technical details, and sometimes it's huge difference. I just remember the architects in Russia dragging huge suitcase of the plans for one single project, one huge sheet printed for a every single tube in the house. Different story in France or Belgium.

Technology should be use in your profit and for your comfort. That is why it's always better to try before through criticism.

Feb 7, 13 4:42 am

Isn't this horse dead yet?

Feb 7, 13 1:02 pm

Alfiya's got a hammer, so everything looks like a nail.

Feb 7, 13 2:29 pm

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