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Understanding Architectural Drawings

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Understanding Architectural Drawings

What are the mechanics of architectural drawings? With teachers in mind, this Knowledge Bank provides a detailed guide to understanding the design process.

These articles are designed to explain the relevance of architectural drawings and to demystify some of the jargon. The aim is to help teachers to interact and communicate with the drawings, ensuring that they are getting the design that they want. It is essential that teachers and governors understand the process so that they can refer back aspects of design and confidently approve each stage. This prevents miscommunication and any unexpected costs along the way.

 The selected articles examine:
  • Site and floor plans - Sections and elevations.

  • Service drawings and models - Visualisations.
(The above must be read in conjunction in order to get the complete story of the design process).

Each article is accompanied by annotated drawings for visualisation, and a series of checklists for personal use.
Floor Plans
  • Understanding the language of the floor plan is essential for visualising the design. The plans will use: a scale, line thickness differentiations, indication of door swings, staircases, hidden details and colour.

  • Within each floor plan there is a number of things to look out for, including size and dimensions, orientation, flexibility and furniture layouts.

  • The article focused on foor plans encourages the awareness of how architects record amendments, in order to avoid miscommunication.

Sections and Elevations

  • Elevations are the most misunderstood of architectural drawings. They are often seen as representations of the final building. However, they are only a coded diagram of what will be provided.

  • Sections give the third-dimension and the height to the proposals.

  • These must be read in conjunction with the floor plans article in order to get the full picture.

Service Drawings and Models
  • The services are a crucial part of building a school and will affect the comfort conditions of all spaces as well as providing power for the numerous pieces of equipment.

  • It is important to understand how services control the environment as well as power equipment. Mechanical and electrical services will be used to control the internal environment of a new school by modifying the temperature, air flow and light levels at different times of the day.
  • It is important for clients to get a basic understanding of the division between those services which control the environment and those which power functional equipment, so that they can exert some influence over the allocation of resources.

  • This is a vitally important issue because overly extensive and complex services will consume large amounts of the capital budget, and absorb excessive revenue to run them. If the services can be reduced to the minimum then money will be available for other things.


Visualisations (additional presentation tools) add a sense of scale to a build. They can be used at public meetings and exhibitions to help convey the design. The choice of visualisation will be dependent on the cost and the desired effect. 
These range from:
  • Three dimensional, realistic models.

  • Axonometric drawings (a three-dimensional birds-eye view of the building).

  • The use of computer aided design (CGI).

  • Rendered elevation drawings (adding detail to the elevation drawings).

  • Perspectives/artist impressions.

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How to read architects drawings #5

This article is the fifth and final part of a series of articles about understanding architects’ drawings, with a focus on Visualisations and how to best use them to benefit a school plan.

How to read architects' drawings #2

This is the second of five articles by Chris French for anyone thinking of building at their school, which will take clients through all the drawings sent by the architect and his team and explain their relevance. This issue will deal with floor plans, followed by sections and elevations, service drawings and finally models, computer generated images and artists’ impressions in later issues.

How to read architects’ drawings #4

This article is the fourth part of a series of articles in Century 21 Schools about understanding architects’ and engineers' drawings, this article has a focus on building services, both Mechanical and Electrical.

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This article is the third part of a series of articles in 21st Century Schools about architect’s drawings by Chris French, and focuses on Elevations. Elevations are probably the most misunderstood of architects drawings.

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