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An architectural drawing or architect's drawing is a technical drawing of a building (or building project) that falls within the definition of architecture. Architectural drawings are used by architects and others for a number of purposes: to develop a design idea into a coherent proposal, to communicate ideas and concepts, to convince clients of the merits of a design, to enable a building contractor to construct it, as a record of the completed work, and to make a record of a building that already exists.
Architectural drawings are made according to a set of conventions, which include particular views (floor plan, section etc.), sheet sizes, units of measurement and scales, annotation and cross referencing. Conventionally, drawings were made in ink on paper or a similar material, and any copies required had to be laboriously made by hand. The twentieth century saw a shift to drawing on tracing paper, so that mechanical copies could be run off efficiently.
The development of the computer had a major impact on the methods used to design and create technical drawings, making manual drawing almost obsolete, and opening up new possibilities of form using organic shapes and complex geometry. Today the vast majority of drawings are created using CAD software.
The size of drawings reflects the materials available and the size that is convenient to transport – rolled up or folded, laid out on a table, or pinned up on a wall. The draughting process may impose limitations on the size that is realistically workable. Sizes are determined by a consistent paper size system, according to local usage. Normally the largest paper size used in modern architectural practice is ISO A0 (841 mm × 1,189 mm or 33.1 in × 46.8 in) or in the USA Arch E (762 mm × 1,067 mm or 30 in × 42 in) or Large E size (915 mm × 1,220 mm or 36 in × 48 in).
Architectural drawings are drawn to scale, so that relative sizes are correctly represented. The scale is chosen both to ensure the whole building will fit on the chosen sheet size, and to show the required amount of detail. At the scale of one eighth of an inch to one foot (1:96) or the metric equivalent 1 to 100, walls are typically shown as simple outlines corresponding to the overall thickness. At a larger scale, half an inch to one foot (1:24) or the nearest common metric equivalent 1 to 20, the layers of different materials that make up the wall construction are shown. Construction details are drawn to a larger scale, in some cases full size (1 to 1 scale).
- An isometric uses a plan grid at 30 degrees from the horizontal in both directions, which distorts the plan shape. Isometric graph paper can be used to construct this kind of drawing. This view is useful to explain construction details (e.g. three dimensional joints in joinery). The isometric was the standard view until the mid twentieth century, remaining popular until the 1970s, especially for textbook diagrams and illustrations.
Cabinet projection is similar, but only one axis is skewed, the others being horizontal and vertical. Originally used in cabinet making, the advantage is that a principal side (e.g. a cabinet front) is displayed without distortion, so only the less important sides are skewed. The lines leading away from the eye are drawn at a reduced scale to lessen the degree of distortion. The cabinet projection is seen in Victorian engraved advertisements and architectural textbooks, but has virtually disappeared from general use.
- An axonometric uses a 45 degree plan grid, which keeps the original orthogonal geometry of the plan. The great advantage of this view for architecture is that the draughtsman can work directly from a plan, without having to reconstruct it on a skewed grid. In theory the plan should be set at 45 degrees, but this introduces confusing coincidences where opposite corners align. Unwanted effects can be avoided by rotating the plan while still projecting vertically. This is sometimes called a planometric or plan oblique view, and allows freedom to choose any suitable angle to present the most useful view of an object.
- Perspective is the view from a particular fixed viewpoint.
- Horizontal and vertical edges in the object are represented by horizontals and verticals in the drawing.
- Lines leading away into the distance appear to converge at a vanishing point.
- All horizontals converge to a point on the horizon, which is a horizontal line at eye level.
- Verticals converge to a point either above or below the horizon.
One-point perspective where objects facing the viewer are orthogonal, and receding lines converge to a single vanishing point.
Two-point perspective reduces distortion by viewing objects at an angle, with all the horizontal lines receding to one of two vanishing points, both located on the horizon.
Three-point perspective introduces additional realism by making the verticals recede to a third vanishing point, which is above or below depending upon whether the view is seen from above or below.
- Location drawings, also called general arrangement drawings, include floor plans, sections and elevations: they show where the construction elements are located.
- Assembly drawings show how the different parts are put together. For example, a wall detail will show the layers that make up the construction, how they are fixed to structural elements, how to finish the edges of openings, and how prefabricated components are to be fitted.
- Component drawings enable self-contained elements e.g. windows and doorsets, to be fabricated in a workshop, and delivered to site complete and ready for installation. Larger components may include roof trusses, cladding panels, cupboards and kitchens. Complete rooms, especially hotel bedrooms and bathrooms, may be made as prefabricated pods complete with internal decorations and fittings.
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