An architectural drawing is a technical drawing that visually communicates how a building and/or its elements will function and appear when built.
Architects and designers produce these drawings when designing and developing an architectural project into a meaningful proposal.
They have many uses and purposes that include; communication, presentation, information, instruction and record, all of which are required at set stages during a building procurement.
Standard architectural drawings
There are many types of architectural drawings that are required during the process of designing, developing, and constructing a building, some are used at specific times and stages, and others such as the floor and site plans are continuously evolved and adapted as the project develops.
At their simplest level, architectural drawings ideally comprise of floor plans, sections, sizes and units of measurements, together with references and annotations, however there many additional drawings required depending the scope and complexity of the building.
A floor plan is essentially a map showing a buildings internal arrangement in relation to its external walls and environment.
Each floor or level of the building will require its own plan, which as a rule of thumb is a horizontal slice taken across the building at 1200mm above its floor level. We have a whole article here, dedicated to drawing one.
Site plans show an aerial view of the whole building or group of buildings within its neighboring context, with clear boundaries and access points. The drawing can also show neighboring structures and streets if they are relevant to the building design.
In short an elevation is a drawing of an interior or exterior vertical surface or plane, that forms the skin of the building.
Externally an elevation is most commonly used to describe the vertical interface between the interior and exterior of a building, where the external facing walls and surfaces of each side of the proposal are drawn.
A cross-section drawing refers to a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal cut that results in the removal of one of the selected parts to reveal the objects inner elements.
A good example of this is the process of cutting an apple in half to reveal its core and pips, or a cake with all its layers.
Isometric and axonometric projections
Isometric and axonometric projections depict three-dimensional volumes and their spacial relationship to one another.
A detailed drawing shows a small section of a construction project in detail, and aims to demonstrate how the various elements and materials of a building come together. For example window openings, floor and wall junctions and structural connections.
Concept drawings and sketches
Concept drawings and sketches are quick hand drawings that aim to communicate an idea or notion to help drive a project.
Often initially used internally amongst the design team, once established they can later be used to help communicate and present the project.
Electrical drawings are predominately plan based illustrations that use specific symbols to communicate the placement and layout of lights, switches and power sockets in relation to the building and its use. A selection of free symbols can be found here
Architecture drawing scales
All architecture drawings are drawn to a scale and as described here in great detail, there are set scales that should be used depending on which drawing is being produced, some of which are below:
1:500 (1”=40’0”) – Site plan
1:250 (1”=20’0”) - Site plan (note that 1:250 is not a common metric scale)
1:200 (1/16”=1’0”) – Site plan
1:100 (1/8”=1’0”) – Floor plans, elevations and sections
1:50 (1/4”=1’0”) - Floor plans, elevations and sections
1:20 (3/4”=1’0”) - Room plans, interior elevations
1:10 (1 1/2”=1’0”) – Joinery, component details, construction details
1:5 (3”= 1’0”) – Construction details
Hand drawing is the traditional sketching with a pen on paper. For a long time, architects have used hand drawings to explore ideas and assess multiple options during the design stage. Unlike today where hand drawings are used to make rough sketches before fine tuning with computer software, traditional hand drawing had to be perfect.
The first-hand drawings in the history of architecture date back to 10,000 B.C.E. At this time the drawings were merely artistic, but then they gradually evolved to become architecturally meaningful. Today hand drawings have been faded out, but in small instances, they exist side by side with computer-assisted drawings.
Computer Generated Imagery
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is as the name suggests the processes of using a computer application to create a representation of a project, with the soul purpose of communication.
As technology has progressed, so have CGI’s, and they now form a fundamental part of architectural presentations and documents at all scales.
Computer Aided Design
Computer-aided design (CAD) is used throughout the entire design and construction process of a project, having completely superseded older formal hand drawing methods. The advantage amongst being a lot more precise and accurate, is the ability to revise and undo elements of the drawing with ease and speed, making it a much more efficient method of drafting.
Both architects and engineers use 2D and 3D CAD software. These programs enable in-depth exploration of design ideas. Architects can visualize concepts and simulate design performance in the real world.
Computer-assisted designs are highly beneficial in the construction world. Designers can collaborate over the cloud across oceans. The designs are easy to interpret even for non-professionals.
Types of architectural drawings
Presentation drawings are used to present, communicate and validate an idea and/or scheme. This is often helped by using such presentational methods such as shadows, textures, people and vegetation for example, that are often delivered via the CAD programmes library.
The aim is to show how the spaces created might be used and what they may feel like to occupy, so demonstrating light, scale, and atmosphere are often important.
Survey drawings are often the first type of drawing an architect or designer will work and engage with, and represent a measured and accurate record of the existing site and the buildings occupying it.
This helps the architects to identify existing site levels and features that can be adopted, removed or altered.
Record drawings are made by architects to understand existing projects. For instance, in the renaissance period, architects would create record drawings of buildings that remained after the Greco-Roman civilizations. They then use these drawings to influence their own designs and projects.
Working drawings refer to all the drawing sets used in the construction process. These may include the architect's drawings as well as the engineers and other consultants. Working drawings include location drawings, assembly drawings and component drawings.
Location drawings detail floor elevations, sections, and floor plans, showing the location of all construction elements.
Assembly drawings reflect how the different parts fit together. The drawings might detail how the layers fit with the structural elements and how the edges and prefabricated components are interconnected.
Components drawings show how self-contained elements like windows and doors can be fabricated and installed.
The drawings also detail larger components like roof trusses, kitchens and joinery for example, and form a type of instruction manual during construction.
In the past, architects would combine location drawings, assembly drawings and component drawings all in one sheet. That was possible because building techniques were less detailed. However today modern buildings are much more complex and detailed, so architects have to isolate all these types of working drawings on separate sheets.
Architectural drawing Tips
1. Use line thickness's
When drawing a floor plan or section, the walls that are being cut through should always be a heavier line weight.
2. Minimize smudging
In order for hand drawn architectural drawings to convey their meaning, they need to be neat. Avoid smudging and making your sketches look messy.
3. Take your time
Creating a perfect architectural drawing takes time. Accept that fact and be ready to rework your pieces for as many times as it takes until you nail it.
4. Use layers
When drawing in a CAD package, divide your line weights into layers, for example you may have different layers for say walls, windows and joinery. These can then be saved as a template and used every time you start a new drawing.
5. Use hatches
Hatches add detail and depth, and can be used to identify and draw attention to elements and materials, for example to show floor finishes and/or light and shadow.
Using objects such as furniture, cars and vegetation, adds scale and context to drawings as well identifies the limitations of the spaces created. i.e if a client has specialist furniture requirements.
7. Add annotations
Annotations help to draw attention and add additional information to the objects and elements in your drawing.
8. Add dimensions
Dimensions provide a quick reference to the scale and size of the spaces in your drawing, without the need for a scale rule
9. Work with a mouse and not touch pad
To create perfect CAD drawings, you need a mouse, touch screens are not CAD friendly.
Architectural drawing software
There are a lot architectural drawing packages to choose from, and all at varying prices and with different features, and quality of output.
The exact match for you will be dependant on your requirements and budget, however the programmes featured below are the major contenders.
Microstation is a stable design platform that works better than the standard AutoCAD. Microstation is easier to use and has many features that relate to real-world architecture.
The only problem is that users might face AutoCAD compatibility issues with Microstation
This software is both a 2D and 3D design application that can help you with total project output. It works well in modeling and rendering of computer-generated architectural imagery and can also be used to create 2D and 3D models, elevations and plans.
Archicad has a cloud platform that enables storage and design collaboration.
Chief Architect is one of the most popular architectural software packages for residential design. It has useful but limited graphics with an acceptable output.
SketchUp is a fanatic tool for producing both complex and simple 3D models, it offers a free online version as well as paid license, making it the perfect tool for both students and licenced architects.
AutoCAD is the standard architectural software. AutoCAD has the largest market share of architectural design applications. One would also have to be on the lookout for trends and technological advancements to keep their knowledge and skills relevant as time passes.
Architecture is a broad field that leans on technical skills in art, and mathematics. In the course of the study and during profession, one needs to continually adopt new technologies to keep their drawing knowledge and skills relevant.