How to understand the language of architectural drawings

The language of architectural drawings

If you’ve ever been lost in a foreign city with no knowledge of the local language you know how difficult it is to get around. Similarly, in order to find your way around a proposed building design, you’ll need to be able to read the local language. Architects work with drawings all day long and we sometimes forget that our clients may not speak our language. They used to be called “blueprints”, because of the blue colour associated with the copying process, but now they’re just called drawings.  Here are a few tips on how to read architect’s drawings.

How to read a Floor Plan

How to read a floor plan drawingA Floor Plan is a flat representation of what you’d see if you could slice away the upper part of a building and look straight down on the bottom 4 feet. You’ll see familiar items: walls are parallel lines. Doors are long rectangles with an arc to show their swing. Windows are parallel lines close together like panes of glass. You’ll see other familiar building elements like stairs, furniture, hallways, closets and elevators. Image yourself in the space by relating the plan you’re looking at to the size of things you already know, like a doorway. Trace your finger through the building, stopping to imagine each room. A scale marker like 1:100 indicates that one unit of measurement on the drawing (inch, foot, meter, etc.) represents 100 of the same units in real life.

What Elevation drawings show

What an elevation drawing showsElevation drawings represent a completely flat view of the outside your building. It’s what your building might look like through binoculars, from several kilometres away. Elevation drawings are useful for seeing things you wouldn’t normally see, like the upper parts of the roof, or the size of one part compared to the others. To read an elevation drawing, relate the size of familiar building elements, like a door, to the size of the drawing. If your architect shows you a coloured elevation you’ll begin to get a sense of the material quality of the proposed building.

How to understand a Cross Section drawing

How to read a cross section drawingA Cross-Section drawing is a representation of what you would see if you were to vertically slice away a part of the building to show what’s left. It describes how a building is put together as well as the scale or proportion of one part to another. Cross sections can show differences in floor levels, heights of ceilings, the path of stairs and many other things. Ask your architect to draw in a silhouette of a person and then compare the size of that person to the space it’s in, again relating it to the things you already know.

3D Representations

Example of a 3D representationMost architects can show you a 3D representation your building, complete with materials, textures, sunlight and shadows. These drawings are very similar to what you would actually see in real life and are easy to understand. Some can also produce a video fly-by of your project.


 Ask about the drawings

The next time your architect comes to a meeting armed with a stack of drawings, don’t be intimidated and don’t be afraid to ask about something you don’t understand. It might look like ancient Greek, but it’s not nearly as difficult!

For help understanding architect’s drawings talk to Kelly or David at Parker Seminoff Architects or leave a comment below.

Tagged with:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *