How To Read Architecture Drawing

Understanding Basic Drawing Symbols

Learning about reading architectural drawings requires some knowledge about the symbols and lines used in the drawing itself. Architectural drawings usually have certain design components like squares, circles, corners, and arcs. The lines used for each of these elements can have a specific meaning. For example, a solid line may indicate a wall or support, while a dashed line can indicate a window or door. The thickness of a line can also indicate the height or depth of an element. Thick lines will indicate a higher area, while thin lines indicate a lower area. Symbols like an “x” or an asterisk (*) may indicate a hinge or other fastener.

Use Different Views and Scales

Architects typically use several different views and scales on a single drawing. For example, a drawing may have a bird’s eye view, front, side and top views. The scale indicates how much of the structure is depicted in the drawing. A 1:1 scale would indicate that the drawing is in actual size, while a 1:2 scale would indicate that the drawing is half the size of the actual structure.

Read the Notations

Architects use notations to convey further information about an element of their drawings. Notations can include measurements, construction methodologies and materials. Notations can take the form of different symbols and abbreviations. For example, an “R” with a number can indicate the radius of a corner, while an “L” can indicate a level. Knowing and understanding the various notations can help you interpret a drawing correctly.

Understand the Different Layers of Architecture

Architecture is a complex art and the drawings that illustrate it often depict each layer of the structure. A single drawing may have several layers of information, or it may group all the layers together in one drawing. In order to fully understand a drawing, it is important to recognize the different layers and how they correspond to one another.

Learn About Drawing Abbreviations and Units

In order to correctly read an architectural drawing, you must understand the abbreviations and units used in the drawing. Common abbreviations include “ft” for feet, “in” for inches, “m” for meters, and so on. Knowing how to convert between different units can be particularly helpful when reading a foreign language or international standard drawing.

Understand Drawing Conventions

Architectural drawing conventions refer to the standard symbols and layer conventions used in all drawings. Examples of conventions include the use of dashed, solid, and dotted lines. Knowing how to follow these conventions can make decoding a drawing much easier.

Know When to Ask for Help

If, despite all your efforts, you’re still finding it difficult to interpret an architectural drawing, don’t give up. Ask another qualified person for help. An architect, an engineer, or even a knowledgeable friend may be able to quickly decipher the drawing and can provide assistance if needed.

Read Construction Details

When reading an architectural drawing, it is important to look closely at the details of construction. Details like windows, doors, columns, and beams are often depicted with precise measurements and detailed drawings. Paying attention to these details will help you to understand the overall design of the building.

Study Building Materials

Architectural drawings often denote the type of materials used in the building’s construction. For example, an architectural drawing may indicate the use of stone, steel, wood, or even vinyl. Being familiar with the types of materials used in construction will help you understand how the building is constructed and how it should be maintained.

Identify Site Features

An architectural drawing may also include the geographic location of the building. This can provide valuable information regarding the surrounding area, such as topography, soil type, vegetation, and nearby structures. Being familiar with the site features can help you understand the impact of the building on the land and on the environment.

Find Building Codes

Building codes are guidelines for the construction of a building. They are usually specified in the architectural drawings, and knowing these codes can help you ensure the building is constructed properly. Building codes can vary depending on the location of the building, so it is important to be familiar with the area’s building codes and regulations before constructing a building.

Learn About Building Permits

An architectural drawing may also indicate whether or not a building permit is required before construction can begin. Building permits are typically required in order to ensure the building meets all necessary safety and building codes. Knowing when a building permit is needed can help you avoid costly fines and delays in your project.

Understand Building Functionalities

Architectural drawings may also outline the functionality of the building, such as its purpose or how it is intended to be used. Knowing the functionality of a building can help you better understand the purpose of the building and determine how best to construct the building.

Trace Floor Plans

Floor plans on an architectural drawing indicate the internal layout of a building, including rooms, walls, and doors. Being able to trace and recognize a floor plan can help you understand the internal design of a building and can provide helpful information when designing a space.

Read Building Specifications

Building specifications indicate the dimensions, capacity, and materials used for a given structure. Being able to identify and read specifications can help you determine the maximum capacity of the structure and can provide valuable insight into the type and quality of the materials used in construction.

Analyze Exterior Views

An exterior view of a building can often provide insights into the design of the building. Exterior views typically indicate the shape and size of the building, as well as the construction materials used. Being able to accurately read an exterior view can help you get an accurate picture of the overall design of the building.

Interpret Elevation Drawings

Elevation drawings provide a three-dimensional representation of a building. Understanding elevation drawings can help you understand the design of the building and can provide helpful information for many aspects of construction and design.

Compare Sections

Sectional drawings can provide valuable insight into the design of a building. Comparing sections from different areas in the building can indicate the placement, size, and shape of interior components, such as walls, windows, and doors. Knowing how to compare sections can help you better understand the design of the building.

Analyze Styles and Patterns

Architects often use specific styles and patterns in their drawings. Analyzing the styles and patterns used in a drawing can help you better understand the design of the building and the architect’s intentions for the building. Being able to identify and analyze styles and patterns can provide invaluable insight into the overall design.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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