Sketching, Math and Drafting
Just part of the process

July 30, 2012 — 30 Comments

If you are an architect, sketching, math and drafting are just part of the process. Sure, they don’t sound very sexy but if you want to get something the looks really great, it’s going to take time … and most of that time is spent after the clients have left and it’s just you trying to solve a problem through sketching, math and drafting.

It always start with the question “How am I going to do that?”

We have finished our infill modern house project and I am in the middle of closing things up, filing all the project paperwork, and storing all the files digitally. While we are a little ways off from getting the final project photography (meaning I don’t have final images to show you yet) I do have a handful of images that show the evolution of the bridge element we designed – from the initial problem solving sketches to the last all-most-done-but-not-quite-yet images.


Sale Street Bridge Sketch

This was the first sketch I started with … I was laying out the structural plan. This is what I used to determine the sizes of my windows … that’s right, I said windows. I knew that the structure was going to end up exposed and as a result, the spacing of the members would figure into the window layout. The other moving part to this problem was that the floor was going to be glass as well and the exposed structural members were going to be used to support those glass panels. The glass panel sections have size limitations so determining the spacing and pattern at this point was crucial.


Partial Bridge Floor Plan

In this CAD drawing – a floor plan of the bridge element – you can see how the structural elements (shown dashed) work with the spacing of the windows and the floor glass sections.


Building/ Wall Section at Bridge

I know that not everyone reads construction drawings so if you don’t I apologize in advance. I included this partial construction detail to help show the relationship between the floor (both the glass and concrete portions) to the overall bridge shape.


Bridge Glass Detail

Here is a enlarged look at the corner of the bridge walkway where the glass floor and the glass wall come together. The arrangement and sizing of the structural steel was worked and re-worked until we got it to this point. There is enough of an offset with the steel beam so that the glass at the floor has a place to set. We also sized the vertical columns that connect the structure at the floor to the truss structure at the ceiling with 2″x3″ tube steel so that the width of the members could be enclosed within the metal of the window system. When this bridge is finished, you won’t see any of the columns in the glass wall.


Bridge Gallery millwork study

I generated some SketchUp models at one point to help facilitate a conversation about a large display cabinet that was going to occupy the non-window side of the entire bridge. The clients have a massive African drum collection that they wanted to display and we argued that rather than display them all … why not rotate them in and out of the display area so that they seem a bit more special? They agreed (because it’s a good idea) and as a result we designed a large display area that is surrounded on all side by a LOT of storage areas. These  3D views were created to help show the clients the scale of the display area within the context of the entire cabinet.


Bridge Gallery millwork study

While you can’t tell from these 3D images, let me assure you that the open display area – as well as the individual doors for the storage area – all align with the structure, glass floor panels, and the joints in the glass curtain wall.

Bridge Gallery millwork study

Bridge Gallery millwork studies.

And construction finally gets underway! The pictures I have included below represent about 2% of all the photos I took of this area during construction administration. I don’t go onto the job site thinking about how I am going to take certain pictures to improve a blog post – although that would probably be a good idea. Most of the pictures I take are specific to the overall progress and generally indicate the context of a specific area related to its adjacent parts. (yikes … that sentence sounded awfully medical)

Bridge view from Ground Floor Level

This is one of the earliest bridge photos from the construction process – hopefully the bridge element is obvious. Not too much at this point – a composite deck, a structural roof deck, and two columns at the 1/3rd points of the span. In the end, you won’t see these columns because they will be hidden within the window system.

bridge element view of stud framing

bridge element with the rear wall framed in

bridge element

bridge element with windows in place

bridge element with windows in place

bridge element with windows in place

the underside of the bridge

the bridge - butt joined glazing

interior of the bridge - finish out getting close

bridge element - interior finish out

The picture above represents how this fairly large area was used once the space was dried in – as a storage and staging area. In this picture, paint grade cabinets are staged here to finish drying before they move back into/ onto the cabinets from which they came.


bridge element - butt-joined glazing

glass bridge installing sheathing

glass bridge installing sheathing

looking down bridge with cabinet installed

Argh! Surprisingly this is the last picture I have of the bridge element … not very complete looking is it? Despite the millions of photo’s I took, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that I didn’t have one that showed the glass floor. Those sheets of plywood covered the area where the glass floor would go for over 16 months and it was probably 24 months from the first sketch I showed of the structural floor system until this point in the project. I will just have to come back after we get the professional photography back and update this post. The space turned out really well and the drum collection fit in very nicely to its new home.

It is easy to look at any space and not fully understand all the decisions and time spent to make it what it has become. This is particularly true in modern style spaces where a great many of the nuances are not on display because they have been carefully incorporated into the architecture. I have used this project – and particularly this bridge element – as an example of how the design process really never stops. The time spent to refine the details for this area started in design development but it was during the construction documentation portion of the project that allowed an idea to come to fruition. I didn’t come up with this bridge element but those are my sketches and 3d studies … I drew those construction details and wall sections. I sized the structural members, and I figured out the math that would allow the structure, window sizes and glass floor pieces to all come together as if it took no effort at all to get them to .. well, look as if it took no effort for them all to come together.

The beginning design idea and final image are what appear the most exciting, but it was the sketching, the math, and the drafting that actually made it all work. I think that once you figure that out, sketching, math, and drafting won’t seem like the non-sexy part of architecture any more. They might not get the headlines, but without those skills, certain spaces just wouldn’t ever come together.





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  • Laurel

    What was the highest level of math that you took in college?

    • there was a special name for it but I don’t remember – it was like algebraic geometry. The math in my structures course was harder but it was barely more than beginning trigonometry

  • Harkat-Mokrani Mayssoun

    very good job, i am so impressed ! bon courage !

  • spsarch

    Certainly a true example of good design – alignment. This is the result of sketching, math, & drafting coming together. A detail that all architects have a privilege to express but few execute well. Great work!

    • purplekris

      Agree and thanks for sharing the sketch – construction – completion sequence. Architects, we love math!

  • This is some great stuff. I’m a contractor: I wish I was an architect.

  • Richard

    I am envious Bob. The depth of the project you are involved in are ten times the effort than what I typically get involved with. Although I love what I do, it does get repetative in nature. Family homes for people with a (very) limited budget means cutting out interesting details and becomes what it always is. As our new firm becomes more successful we are getting more complex designs, with larger budgets, but still most project are well under half a million dollars. I suppose in time we’ll get the projects that really interest me, but until then I will continue to be envious….Wow, a glass bridge…I can only dream.

    • I consider myself extremely lucky (although this might be the last glass bridge of my short career!)

  • annechitect

    Nice post Mr. Bob!

  • Lok

    Sketching, math, and drafting are what I’m most excited about in becoming an architect! I’ll be starting my first year at school in a few weeks and I’ve been worrying about not being “artsy” or “out there” enough… This post calmed me down a bit and got me all excited again- thanks! 🙂

  • Sexy math, hidden details… a bridge? I’m squeeing in delight. 🙂 Can’t wait to see the finished photos Bob.

    If I may ask, what’s going under the bridge?

    • trolls…

      actually it’s a large outdoor seating and dining area. The bridge acts as a cover for these areas.

  • Jimmy Marbles

    Great post sir! One question, won’t the glazed floor be a total peep show? I would assume the female users would be a little self concious to use the glazed walk and would immediately walk on the solid finished floor.

    • you are correct – which is why when the owner originally requested that the entire floor be glass, we talked to them about the importance of providing an opaque area for walking.

      • Jimmymarbles

        I see. Visually you still have a very slick detail.

        I assume the owner didn’t want to go for translucent panels. It would have had the natural light and feel of openest, but modesty would have been kept. LED lights underneath for a dimmable floor, plus you don’t have to stair at the inevitable spiderwebs.

  • Nice post and design. Also great work by the guys onsite. These types of projects look deceptively simple when final pictures are taken but usually take much attention to detail..from design to finish

    • Thanks Barry,
      I think these progression posts that I have been trying to assemble are interesting for that very reason. Normally, something that looks ridiculously simple (when it comes to construction) is anything but.


  • David Ferguson

    Nice post Bob.

    • Thanks David – I appreciate you taking the time to tell me.


  • This is a great post! Is it common to invest this much time, energy, and refinement on 1 area of a project….say a bedroom. Or is this indicative of how important this element was to the overall project?

    • Is it common? Yes – on an area this complicated and when it is a feature in the project. All the items I discussed would be exposed so working out all the little nasty bits was pretty important.

      All the spaces get the same sort of attention, it’s just that space like this one (compared to a bedroom) have a bit more going on and as a result, take more time to get them right.

      Thanks for the question.

  • Is that cool or what! Thanks!!

    • Thanks Doug – there was even more to this post but I deleted half of it thinking that I had made my point. I had considered going into how the electrical and HVAC were worked out in this space, even the water feature that creates a water curtain that is visible through the glass floor but it was getting late and I thought I had already overstayed my welcome.


  • up_today_arch

    Thanks a lot, very interesting! Mostly for drawings!.

  • Hence the commonly heard, “Oh cool, I always wanted to be an architect but I’m not very good with math.” I guess there is some truth there. Congratulations on an excellently detailed piece!

    • The math I used on this was addition, subtraction and division. Pretty sure most people could handle this level of number crunching. While it is true that there is difficult math involved in school, I rarely use anything that I learned beyond geometry (and that’s only because I am overly particular about some things).

      • The toughest mathematical thing I’ve come across is computing the number of 1 and 2 BR apartments as they relate to required parking, the developer’s desired percentage split, and available square footage. Too many variables that rely on one another! It takes some serious algebra or a few lucky guesses…