This is the final of a three part series on the art of the near-lost art of hand drawing in the practice of architecture.
TEMP009 copyIn my last two posts (or soapboxes, I suppose), I discussed the art of hand drawing in architectural sketches and development drawings. This series concludes with the topic of construction drawings. Construction drawings are the technical drawings in the practice of architecture. They’re the documents that convey to the builder and the various trades how to physically build what we’ve designed.

Although they’re considered the most mechanical aspect of architectural renderings, I hold fast to the belief that there’s a distinct and pertinent art to these drawings. As a draftsman, I’ve found when you’re relying on your thoughts and hand to detail and relay graphic information, you’re in fact building the structure in your mind. Once the drawings are completed, you know that building inside and out. Every dimension, component and condition has passed through your conscious thought and has been made real. It’s now simply a matter of conveying that information to the minds and hands of the talented builders we’re honored to work alongside. I’ve been told by contractors that when their subcontractors review our drawings, they recognize the art that goes into them (as they rarely see hand drawn construction drawings) and their resulting work increases in quality. Our art genuinely boosts theirs.

CAD (computer aided design) has its place in the architectural practice where commissions demands duplication, repetition and cross referencing. Our efforts, however, are very different. I liken our endeavors to having a bespoke suit made. Everything is custom designed for our particular clients; we don’t keep a library of standard details on hand from which to pick and choose. Every piece is individually orchestrated to develop the symphony of the whole.

I rejoice seeing blueprints hanging in museums in exhibits on the old masters of architecture. In our daily efforts, I hope we’re carrying that torch (or pencil as it were) into the next era.

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Greg Tankersley, for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. Kit Reuther says:

    Aside from their intended purpose, working drawings have a really lovely aesthetic. thanks for the reminder.

  2. Scott Amis says:

    I’ve very much enjoyed seeing this article and your firm’s superb work. Similarly, I worked in residential architecture, did nothing but traditional and classical styles for 25 years, and made a point of producing hand drawings both presentation and construction that conveyed a sense of tradition, style, and elegance.

  3. boris says:

    Today the vast majority of technical drawings of all kinds are made using CAD. Instead of drawing lines on paper, the computer records equivalent information electronically. There are many advantages to this system: repetition is reduced because complex elements can be copied, duplicated and stored for re-use. Errors can be deleted, and the speed of draughting allows many permutations to be tried before the design is finalised. On the other hand, CAD drawing encourages a proliferation of detail and increased expectations of accuracy etc. but hand drawing aesthetic hard to beat…

  4. Greg
    Not that I disagree with anything you’ve said. It is apparent that you are not aware of the latest advancements in computer generated drawing. CAD is only one of many computer programs. I too prefer to draw by hand, but due to Parkinsons’s I am having to learn how to draw on the computer. I have to admit, that the newest computer programs allow one to be as original and “bespoke” as one wants to be. And in fact, allows for some drawings to be far more detailed than one can produce by hand, in that the drawing can be enlarged during the process and then reduced to it’s proper scale. When I am doing interiors drawings now, I can actually access a file from a particular lighting manufacturer and copy the file the drawing, thus showing a sconce, for instance, exactly as it will appear when installed.
    And all us architects cannot deny the nightmare of dimensioning a complicated house or building. This is another example of where the computer is immensely helpful. It does it automatically.

    So, yes, hand drawn drawings are beautiful and seem more humanized, but the aid of the computer when utilized properly, can be be just as much so.

  5. David says:

    I suppose I’m what you might call a “tweener”. My father is an architect and I started drawing as an apprentice in the 70’s at the tender age of 12. Consequently, I literally grew up drawing, but still in my 20’s when CAD began taking over the studio. Hence I very much embraced the convenience of not having to check dimension strings and could copy and paste “standard” details. However, as I got more experienced and started to check my draftsmen’s drawings, I found a inordinate number of simple errors. Someone moved a wall and the dimension string now has numbers like 12′-5 3/16″ for a block dimension. A “standard” detail shows a soffit detail with a 2×4 stud wall when the wall section is 2×6 with a brick veneer. Perhaps some designers wouldn’t care about this and have a general note that says the contractor shall verify all references and notify the architect of any discrepancies, but I feel that the drawings should be consistent and complete. Hand drawing makes you think about the details and the dimensions, about how the carpenter is going to build it, the materials and connections. You have to draw the same part of the building at 2 or 3 different scales with a different level of detail.
    I accepted the computer as a reality, but still did as many drawings as possible by hand. Although, when I did have CAD operators working under me, I made them do their CAD drawings all in gray scale, just like a drawing, then they HAD to use line weight and line type just so they could read what was on their monitor (no more 107 colors). Since we printed in gray scale it made for much nicer and better reading drawings, much more like a hand drawing.
    I also bought into the ArchiCad 3D modeling with fly- throughs with furniture, rendered materials, colors and even including the sun’s angles and shadows. But I found that my clients tended to Not like the design outright because of a small, changeable issue that they couldn’t necessarily identify or able see how it could be altered. However, with hand drawn sketches or even design development drawings they felt comfortable questioning or asking if we could change this or that. Where as they felt like the computer generated 3D models were “set in stone” even though they were much easier to change and manipulate. So much so, I started free hand sketching over the computer drawings for client presentations when we were using CAD on a particular project.
    Thank you for the blog and allowing me the opportunity to vent about computer aided design. Good luck and keep the faith.

    • David

      I completely agree with you as far as the client’s ability to understand and accept design proposals. No one can better present and convey their designs than the folks at McAlpine Tankersley. Their presentation drawings are works of art. I remain envious of their abilities in this regard. Likewise I only use hand drawing drawings when presenting to clients; and as well I feel it very important to be able to to free hand sketches during discussions with my clients, as computer drawn presentations are very strange to them.

    • David: Feel free to vent here whenever you like. Thanks for the feedback and support!

  6. d2zen says:

    Your series on hand-drawing architectural plans has been so enlightening. I have a fresh appreciation of the complexity, singular expression and beauty of the process.

    • Deborah: Thanks for sitting through our three-phase soap box. Even though our finished product is usually what is seen in publications and such, we’re happy to have a podium here to share what we do behind the magic graphite curtain.

  7. Eddie Kircher says:

    I just ran into this today. A client had shown an architect a picture of a bay window out of a book that he wanted on his room addition and he drew it using cad. The windows go wall to wall and floor to ceiling. The cad drawings just could not produce the detail needed. I spent around 3 hours at the site and then mill-work company. i ended up “hand drawing” it on the slab and then on paper for the window company so me and everyone could understand and everything fit. I totally agree the hand drawn plans are much better when it comes
    to details.

  8. Peter Milner says:

    Beautifully said! I completely agree. Hope all you guys are well!

  9. Great looking drawings. Love your work.

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