Graphics are the language that architects use to communicate intent to the people we serve. We draw to explain our designs, we draw to explain what material we want to use, we draw to articulate how we want something to be built … so to that end, it seems like a particularly good topic for an architectural podcast. Welcome to episode 90: Architectural Graphics.
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When you hear the term “architectural graphics” what comes to mind for you? Is the thought dated in any way? jump to 3:33
While it can be a specific representation or type of orthographic projection like plan or sections, but as we discuss it is basically the creation of computer drawings. Almost all architecture graphics in architectural practice today is going to be generated from a computer. I know this is not 100% true, but it is definitely a large majority. So how is this related to the notion of creating graphics that read the way they should. In our experiences, it seems that this connection is getting lost and there are probably several reasons for this occurrence.
Drawing classes jump to 4:38
When Bob was in school, as far as he can recall, he did not take any “drafting” classes during his time in school. He took some classes on drawing, but they were art-focused classes and not ones that pertained to the concept of “drafting”. Andrew on the other hand took a hand drafting class specifically. It was actually a requirement for his degree. During this class, they basically created a hand-drafted set of construction documents. He also took an AutoCAD class from the engineering department since the architecture department did not offer it. Today Andrew can say that at his College, they do teach the basic ideas of creating architectural drawings. There are not “drafting” courses, but the skills and methods for creating the “standard” orthographic drawings are taught and emphasized in the first year of study.
Timeline of learning that software jump to 11:18
Of course over the duration of your career, you will learn different and new software. This will probably never change for any architect. Well, probably not for the foreseeable future. So Bob started his timeline of software as he entered the workforce since there were no computers during his education. Below are some highlights and a timeline of his representation software knowledge.
DataCAD in 1995 – This company is actually still around and is a software used in areas outside the United States. We both had no idea it was still around. But it is still a product in usage and can be found here. I found some information that says it was once endorsed by the AIA as the software of choice.
AutoCAD in 1996 – This one is of course still a standard in the industry. I would claim that I hit my peak in AutoCAD supremacy in about 2003. I had all the skills necessary to go against any other AutoCAD user on the planet in 2003.
Photoshop in 1997 or 1998 – The big benefit for this at my firm was based on the fact that knowing this software kept me from having to complete details and that type of tedious work. Knowing Photoshop allowed me to be present in meetings and out in front of clients. This was a huge benefit of software knowledge and that was where I wanted to be.
Truspace in 1997 or 1998 (same time as photoshop) – This one is a lesser-known software. It was used to create some 3D models with the ability to paint surfaces on a 3D form. It was software that was mainly used in the movie industry. At the time of use, it was a cutting-edge product for the architecture field to use.
SketchUp in the late 2000s – maybe October (which is right after it came out) I have an old SketchUp file that I found that was made in 2000 right after the software came out. So I started early on that software. I feel solid about my abilities in this one also.
InDesign in 2016 – I had to learn this one recently because I had to create my own submission for my application for AIA Fellow. This forced me to learn this publishing software since I did not have someone assemble this for me. I think at this point I have gained some mastery over this one as well.
Andrew learned and did most of his schoolwork by hand as a chosen option. While there was computer software being used during his graduate school era, Andrew chose to still work by hand for the sense of craft. So most of his knowledge came once he entered practice as well. A few of the graphic softwares were started in school though.
AutoCAD and Microstation in 1996 – So Andrew learned some AutoCAD and Microstation during his college education. He took a semester-long course in AutoCAD during his undergraduate studies. Microstation is still a product under a Bentley Company license.
FormZ in 1997-1998 – Also during his grad school days in the mid to late 1990’s, the software called Form Z was a very popular 3D modeling software used by many. I would say that it was cutting-edge software at that time and to my surprise is still in existence today. I only dabbled in the use of this software as I kept strictly to hand creation of work eve for my graduate school work.
Adobe Photoshop in 1998 – I learned this for my graduate school portfolio and actually had a few photo-shopped images in my final graduate school project review.
Adobe Page Maker in 1998-99 – I also picked up the use of this during the creation of my graduate school and first job portfolio. This software was the precursor to InDesign. The last version of this software was in 2001. It was replaced by InDesign.
AutoCAD in 1999 – Once I moved in to practice this was the only software I used for production. The only one. I was able to set up office standards for the firms I was working at which ended up being the firm I would later purchase. So most of my career I have been the one creating office standards.
SketchUp in 2003 – Not much to say here. It was SketchUp and it was used for conceptual design much like it is still today. The rendering capabilities are definitely better now.
InDesign in 2004 – Getting back into using this for SOQ and marketing materials for the firm. It was the best option for making documents with graphics and text. It still is in my opinion.
Revit in 2008-2009 – I started in this early right after I purchased my firm. It was an important part of my company goals to be on the technological edge for my company. In about 2012 I would put my firm’s Revit skills against any other company.
No computer graphics jump to 16:20
During both of our education, we did not have much access to computer-generated drawing tools. It was mostly in its infancy during this item and there are very few instances of computers being used in practice or academia in the early 1990s. Even in the mid-1990s, it was difficult to find anyone who was working in the computer creation of architectural graphics. In the late 1990’s it became possible for some larger firms to afford. But even at that time, it was usually being used to “draft” the typical details that would be replicated on every project. So the intent was to create some efficiency by creating standard graphics and not unique for every project. In the beginning, it was a very tedious process and all based on the idea of Cartesian references as there was not a mouse to use or colors to differentiate lines. It was not punch-card data entry, but it was pretty darn close! Both Andrew and I learned AutoCAD without any colors for lines. There was only a single color and also a limited number of layers.
Drafting jump to 26:50
How an architect draws is a reflection of many things – you can frequently tell the priorities of a firm just by looking at the quality of their drawings. I didn’t say the content of their drawings – and this isn’t just semantics – it speaks to the culture of the firm. For the purposes of today’s article, I am going to assume that all architectural drawings are correct and serve their purpose of conveying intent, scope, and quantity.
Your first assumption might be that I can’t hold down a job – observant but not true. Your second assumption might be that I am some technically minded CAD maniac … Wrong again. I make the changes where I go because I make it a point to care about how our drawings are perceived by the people who read them. Not only do properly delineated drawings read better, they convey a sense of what it took to create them.
This is all about the pen weight and graphic semantics –
- Does it make sense?
- Is it intuitive?
- Can you tell what is being cut through?
- What’s closer and what’s further away?
- Can you tell a center line from a section line?
- Is this a setback line or a property line?
The list goes on and on and if you used what came right out of the box, you might be factually correct but there’s no office culture conveyed in the drawings. This means making custom graphic keys … it might be a giant pain but it’s worth the time and energy.
Every firm I have worked out since I started drafting on the computer, I have changed their graphic standards. Every. Single. One … and yes I am aware that I have worked at small firms and most were more than happy to let me do this because, this was the sort of thing that few people enjoyed during this transition phase, and b) the drawings looked better. Emphasis on that last one. This is even happening now that I have started the Residential Studio within BOKA Powell. So I am getting to instruct and reshape the way drawings are completed within this larger firm. I did not anticipate this ever being a possibility.
Drawing by Hand – the benefits to development jump to 43:48
I would like to kick it old school and talk about sketching since I think in an ideal world, in almost any sort of manner or technique, sketching should always come before drafting. When I graduated from architecture school in 1992, computers in architectural firms were not that prevalent. Some of the larger production commercial firms had the resources to buy “CAD Stations” and dedicate substantial office space to server rooms complete with NASA-looking tape storage systems, but most firms were still drawing things by hand. This was where I really learned how to draw but before you old folks say “that’s right!” and you younger folks look at this as old-timers syndrome, I’m not saying that we drew better, I’m just saying it was different. I used 3 or 4 different lead holders with leads of varying degrees of hard/soft to them. I consciously endeavored to add profile lines, hatching, foreground, and background indicators in place. You could look at the hand-drawn construction drawings and frequently tell who had drawn what sheets and what details. It was art to me … I thought these drawings were beautiful and I didn’t want other people working on my sheets, adding their sloppy pencil work to the magic I had created. It was a big deal to me 20 years ago and even though we don’t draw by hand anymore, it’s still a big deal to me.
By the way, I followed my own advice and bought myself the iPad Pro setup that I put on this year’s holiday gift guide and I have been spending my free time practicing with different digital sketching software. I am killing it but I have no idea what I am doing.
I am using:
Procreate – sketching
Morpholio Trace – another one I may also get into for sketching
Lightroom – photo editing
Dashlane – for passwords
Timepage by Moleskine
Years and years ago, I started a series on my website titled “Architectural Graphics 101”
Reflected Ceiling Plans – January 2017 – this was the first entry into the series
Drawing Alignment and Notes – January 2017
Lineweight – February 2017
Layers – March 2017
Wall Types – August 2017
Window Schedules – October 2017
Title Blocks – October 2020
Finish Schedules – January 2021
Symbols – May 2021
Arrows or Ticks – June 2021
If you have any ideas for additional topics to cover under this series, please let us know in the comments below or in whatever way you want to contact us. It seems like this is a topic that is always of interest.
Would you rather? jump to 54:22
Would you rather have $500,000 or be let in to Area 51 and have all its secrets revealed to you
Well, this one went in a completely different direction than either one of us thought at the start. We both chose the opposite choice that we thought the other would choose. We were able to discuss some of the crazy things that might be possible due to the nature of the question. We tried not to get too outlandish here and the reasons for ou answer may not be what you expect. But in the end, it was a split decision. Think you know which answer we both chose? You are probably wrong.
090: Architectural Graphics
Architectural Graphics are important. I believe that better-drafted drawings lead to better-communicated pieces of information. As architects, that is essentially our job. Andrew thinks this is also often confused with the idea of aesthetics or “pretty drawings”. The reality is that it is about conveying the information and not about creating “pretty pictures”. Those are not the same thing. If there are any steps being taken to provide a clearer understanding of the information within a drawing, that is always a good thing. How could that not be good?
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