Construction drawings can appear to be quite daunting when you don’t know how to read them, and an untrained eye, can merely seem like an incoherent jumble of lines and shapes.
However, understanding their intricacies is an integral part of any architectural or construction practice and these drawings can tell you a lot about a project once you learn how to read them.
…And so in this article we provide you with all the information you need to understand their complexities, and how to best communicate a project through the various different types of drawings.
What are construction drawings?
A construction drawing is an umbrella term for the technical drawings (usually a whole set of drawings) which provide graphic representation and guidelines for a project that is to be built.
These drawings are a part of the information prepared by the design team in order to provide important instructions regarding the proposed building and how it is to be constructed.
These drawings are not sketches or crudely dimensioned layouts, they are technical and refined information documents that ensure the smooth running of your project.
We must make sure that these drawings provide precise dimensions, details, and are according to the specification document (the document which entails pre-agreed workmanship, materials, etc.) included in the contract.
Depending on the author of the project and the project itself, the specifications might be detailed in the construction drawings as well. But it is better practice to keep these documents separate to avoid disparity between the two if a change is made in one document but the other is not updated.
As mentioned previously, these drawings usually consist of a set that includes all floor plans, multiple sections, elevations, structural drawings, etc. A detailed overview of these drawings is also discussed further down in this article.
In practice, many people may also refer to each separate drawing on its own. For example, instead of saying construction drawing, one may simply call it a plan or an elevation depending on which drawing they are talking about.
What is the importance of construction drawings?
Those of us that have not experienced these drawing before, tend to overlook the significance of the information they provide even though they are an imperative part of a project. As these drawings can essentially be seen as a map that will lead the construction team towards a successful completion of the project.
Construction drawings must be concise and well-thought-out, as they are not only used as a guide for the construction process but also have legal significance. They are included in the construction contract and tender documents, which makes them a vitally important part of the agreement between the construction company/contractor and the client.
Overall, it is quite clear that construction drawings are integral to our project as they provide the contractor with all the information that may be required on-site. They also provide the client with a realistic depiction of what the finished product will look like and ensure smooth execution of the design.
How are the drawings made?
With the advent of time, architecture has changed and so have the methods of its creations. Until the late 1980s, most construction drawings were handmade but digital drafting became pervasive in the industry over the next few years.
But are all construction drawings made by architects?
While an architect may have enough expertise to create not only the architectural drawings (plans, sections, etc.) but also the structural and mechanical (plumbing/electrical) drawings.
This mostly happens in small-scale projects and sometimes external specialists are hired. This point is elaborated on below in detail.
Types of construction drawings
As mentioned previously, generally when we talk about construction drawings, we are referring to plans, sections, window/door schedules, and elevations. But sometimes they may include information drawings for other professionals such as electrical plans, plumbing plans, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system details.
The exact constituents of the set vary from project to project, depending upon the scale and specifications along with the needs of the client. In most small-scale projects, an architect will provide the client with all the drawings required for the construction process.
But again, for complex, large-scale, or specialty projects (e.g. large-scale industries, airports, malls, etc.), an increased level of information and external collaboration with specialists might be required.
Hence, the construction documents on these projects will include drawings that might not be required in other projects.
For ease of understanding, we can divide these drawings into the following categories:\
Architectural Drawings: Site plan, Floor plans, Sections, Elevations, Furniture, plan, Door and Window schedule.
Structural Drawings: Structural Plans, Detail drawings of specific parts (joints, connections, foundation, floor, etc.). Roof and ceiling plans.
Mechanical Drawings: Include information on mechanical work i.e. plumbing and drainage, HVAC, fire protection, transportation (elevator, lifts, escalators)
Keep in mind that these categories are not concrete and may overlap at various points if the project requires and/or permits.
What can you learn from a construction drawing?
Each construction drawing has its purpose and specific information that it contains, but one thing they all have in common is that they are all made to scale. For example, 1/12” = 1’ (one-twelfth on an inch on paper will be equal to one foot in reality).
The following portion elaborates upon the information that different construction drawings impart:
Put simply, a “Plan” refers to the top view of an object, and so a Site Plan is essentially a map that shows the extent of the proposed site.
This is created after a careful and thorough analysis of the proposed area for construction and the new construction is marked on it, this provides the contractor with the exact dimensions, access point, greenery, existing physical features, and other details of the site.
More often than not, the neighboring context is also included in the site plan as it might impact the functionality of the proposed structure/building.
Floor plans are a fully detailed 2D map of the inside of the building. Each floor within a building has its separate floor plans e.g. a building with 3 floors will have 3 distinct floor plans with each detailing the components of its respective floor. This plan also provides distinction between each room i.e. it provides annotations for the bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, etc.
Floor plans provide dimensions of walls, rooms, openings (doors, windows), as well as furniture placement and the specific materials that should be used.
Elevations are essentially an overview of the exterior faces of the building. They are drawn as a vertical depiction of the building if one was to look straight at it from the outside. Most buildings have 4 elevations that portray the exterior from all four directions.
Elevations are useful because not only do they specify the material and height details for the building but also provide an insight into what the building might look like from the outside, once it is constructed.
Sections are extremely useful drawings especially when you are dealing with multiple floors in a project. They are similar to elevations in that they both present a vertical depiction of the project but as the name might suggest, sections only show a specific part instead the entire view.
A section provides us with the hidden details that can be seen if the building were to be cut vertically. These details are incredibly important as they provide us with the detailing of the structure of the buildings (position of lintels, foundation, columns, beams, etc.).
Since mostly the scale of the drawings is so small that it is impossible to see the minute detailing in various components. For this purpose, blown-up drawings of just those specific components are provided to the contractor and builders.
The scale is much bigger than that of regular drawings (for example it might be around 1”= 10’ while normal drawings are around 1”= 20’ or 1”=40’ (for commercial projects).
The details include those of window and door frames, stairs, connections, and joints between two components. Detail drawings vary in every project depending on what that project includes.
For example, the details of a spiral staircase will be completely different from those of a normal staircase.
Since a building will have multiple windows and doors of different sizes in various locations around the house, a window and door schedule is attached with the other blueprints.
A schedule will include in detail, all specifications regarding each window or door that is to be installed in the building. Window schedules are usually longer than door schedules and include details about the size, kind, location, materiality, etc. of the window.
A door schedule, on the other hand, will provide the same information about all the doors that are to be installed. Providing a well-composed schedule to the construction team will make their job easier and ensures the correct installation of the door or window into the building.
How to read construction drawings
And while reading and understanding construction drawings can be quite challenging, especially for a beginner, it is not something that you can’t ever learn.
So, it might be a good idea to read a few articles such as this one and watch informative videos (as linked below) when you are looking to enhance your grasp of construction drawings.
If you are looking to learn about construction drawing from the very beginning, click here to start an incredibly detailed and helpful series on YouTube that covers all the basics from start to finish.
The video not only allows you to learn how to communicate with construction drawings on paper but also talks about common terms that professionals use in the field. This video can be a great way to start ones learning journey.
If you are looking to learn more in-depth about the multiple kinds of construction drawings and how the design team uses blueprints to communicate with the construction team, this video will be a good idea, especially for those who are new in the field and are looking to familiarize themselves with the working dynamic of construction drawings.
Are construction drawings important?
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of construction drawings in the process of designing and building. All that has been planned for the project and all that might be changed in the built structure is communicated through them.
They are a record of design, a communicative visual, and a legal document that is imperative in the field of architecture and construction.
Overall it wouldn’t be wrong to say that construction drawings are crucial to the successful completion of a project and it would be impossible to carry out construction endeavors without them.