Architects are credited with numerous skills many of which they get to demonstrate through the buildings they design. But from their conceptual sketches to flashy renders, one of their most aesthetically appeasing skills is their penmanship.
Believe it or not all architects handwriting appears oddly similar, as architectural letter forms are among the clearest handwritten styles one can learn. Traditionally, it was one of the first things that is taught in architecture schools and offices, where designers would relearn how to write words and numbers.
Today due to digital lettering, it has become more optional but is still a very impressionable skill.
Through explaining a project to a client clearly or communicating an idea to your peers, good handwriting can elevate the quality of your sketches and make them easy to understand. As a result, architects handwriting is not only relevant in architecture but many other creative fields such as graphic design, media & advertisement, etc.
So, if you are an architecture student, a young professional, or someone who just wants to improve their handwriting …in this article we look into the origin and need of architectural handwriting, its general rules and regulations, relevance in the digital era, and the various techniques and styles you can adapt depending on your ease and preferences.
Why do architects need a special handwriting style?
Previously when architectural software was scarce all the work used to be carried out by hand, and with the construction industry being a multidisciplinary field, blueprints, drawings, and documents would transfer through many hands from designers to contractors thus the information on the sheet needed to be precise and clear to understand.
Any misinterpretation of the drawings could and would result in major design errors. On top of that new information would be added in the form of notes, corrections, and minor changes to the drawing sheets.
Professionals used pencil rather than ink to avoid permanent mistakes, (which is a practice still prevalent today) but even then, the sheets would look informal with many different writings. Therefore, a standard writing style was created which was accepted in the industry and follows certain guidelines.
This method led to a proper uniformity of legible documents and avoided any costly mistakes. The use of lines and bubble curves was popularized by Architect F.L. Wright and famous illustrator Francis D.K. Ching through their works and books.
Many of which are now included as fonts in digital representation.
What is architectural lettering and how it’s done?
Architecture lettering is an established method of writing style that was created to avoid mistakes, and to ensure that work is clearly presented and communicated to the design team.
Learning this style has always been a laborious task, where students would spend hours practicing the correct way of drawing lines and figures during which they would evolve personal variations while remaining under the guidelines. As a result, architectural lettering is still a part of the curriculum in many design institutes as it also teaches precision and endurance.
Here students use a parallel bar or a T-square along with triangle scales to help in drawing the light horizontal and vertical guidelines. As a student or a professional, one must make sure that all the drawings and construction sheets must have appropriate architectural lettering, maintain high standards, and follow proper rules and regulations.
Some characteristics of architecture lettering are:
- Lettering should be clear and readable.
- Font’s should be constant throughout.
- Avoid any form of overlapping letters and symbols.
- Text must be evenly spaced out.
- Text should be capital case and traditionally written in black ink.
It is good practice to use 4H pencils for your guidelines as these need to be the lightest element on the page (even how you apply pressure is considered!). Then a 2H or an HB pencil can be used for lettering as this needs to be dark and clear. The skill requires time to gain proficiency but once achieved the added quality architectural lettering brings to sketches and annotations is very clear to see.
The rules and regulations of architectural lettering
When put it into practice, the below guidelines can be followed to ensure an accurate lettering style is achieved.
- It is preferred that you use a pain paper and then draw guidelines yourself with a proper ruler, but if practicing – lined paper or a square grid paper can be used.
- Always begin all strokes from the top guideline, never draw a stroke from the bottom upwards.
- Use a small triangle ruler to keep the lines vertical.
- These vertical lines should be perpendicular to the guidelines.
- The space and height of architectural lettering is maintained by guidelines. The highest size can be 3/16 inches. If the size goes above this, the width of the letters will go further than what a single stroke can produce.
- Circular strokes should be on a forward slant with circles made in a single circular motion.
- While making horizontal strokes draw left to right. Top and bottom horizontals are drawn on top of the guidelines.
- Make sure the width and height of all the letters is done correctly. The letter or symbol should fit inside a perfect square.
- There must be no gaps between letters and strokes.
- Avoid the use of serifs.
Architects handwriting vs digital faces
Many of the modern era architects believe that as long as what you write is clear and in an understandable manner, architectural handwriting is no longer necessary or rather must not be imposed. But can still be treated as a legacy skill.
Many architects not only use this style professionally but also as a personal hobby for writing letters and personal notes. Some have to do it by compulsion where they learn it as a part of the curriculum not because it’s necessary but it’s a part of the tradition.
Historically architecture is considered a rather prideful profession, and the appeasing handwriting served as a great medium to express that pride. …Many young professionals nowadays think that old architects use it as just another way to show off!
With digital tools, corrections and addition of information can be done very easily in a standard font that is clear to all.
This topic touches on the battle between moving forward or following traditions. Many students and architects keep the tradition alive not because of the professional demand but out of their sheer will and love for the skill.
Architects still use them in sketches and when developing design concepts, especially when required to communicate their initial ideas. Following this, the production information almost always always moves on to be digitized.
The important thing to aim for here is to present clear and legible information, rather than be fulfilled by the method through which it is achieved.
Types of Architectural lettering
Architectural lettering can be categorized into two categories based on it’s use and the medium in which the lettering is done. These two categories are:
A. Office lettering
Office lettering on an architectural plan or elevation is used to identify the sheet with its name and general descriptive title, and further the names of the clients and architect. The lettering should be large in size.
Location, density, and height of the lettering must depend upon the location, shape, and size of the plan or elevation. This gives a pleasant and finished look to the drawing itself.
Sometimes the style of lettering may be written in a similar style to which the building is being designed. For example, while designing a renaissance style building an Italian renaissance lettering would be very suitable.
B. Inscription lettering
Inscription lettering is the use of letters for architectural inscriptions to be carved in wood, stone, or cast in metal. In this type of lettering, a very different character of the letter is required and always to be considered the relation of letters and the material on which it is going to be inscribed.
Famous architects handwriting
As you begin to practice architectural handwriting over time you will develop your unique style and personality. Many architects and designers over the years have done the same but here are some examples from where you can begin your practice and then develop further on.
Rough draft – Rough draft is a type of architectural style used by architects when exhibiting an urban and avant-garde design in their works. This style consists of only capital letters and keeping the same size. Used mainly in titles and subtitles.
Architect bold – Preferred by many architects for its natural look and it’s a great style for handwriting as it draws attention. It can be used in advertising to gain attention like in architecture when it comes to important details.
Tekton Typeface Architectural lettering – Popularized by famous illustrator Francis Ching through his books as mentioned above, these styles are used for a simpler and more sophisticated look and can be a great guide for practicing your architectural lettering as a beginner.
F.L. Wright Architectural lettering – His style of writing has inspired many over the years. The FLW Foundation has released a font named Eaglefeather which is based on the alphabets designed by the architect for the Eaglerock project in 1922.
Architect NDP typeface – This lettering style is great for more casual and stylized architectural handwriting. You can use it for your sketches and concept ideas once you get used to it.
Video references – There are many insightful videos online that can provide various style options for you to learn and discover. Some of them are:
30X40 Design workshop, how to write like an architect.
The video talks about various aspects of architectural lettering including styles, form, and methods. Teaches you how to draw word to word in a legible way.
How to architect, how to write like an architect.
This is probably the first and oldest video that teaches you about architect handwriting along with the proper use of tools and methodology.
If you are reading this, then you most likely have decided to give architectural handwriting an honest try. It might not seem as crucial as it once used to be but even today if you want to express your ideas and thought processes, architectural handwriting can provide an easy and clear communication tool.
Practice is again the most important part, and the more time you spend the more styles you can incorporate. Or if you simply just want to improve your handwriting, there is no better option than architect handwriting.