Types of architectural drawings

Architectural drawings are more than just a floor plan and elevation. There is a great deal more information that needs to be communicated through a set of construction plans than just the general design. In fact, though the home design floor plan and elevation are important, the majority of drawings in a complete set of working drawings have more to do with how to build what is shown on the floor plan and elevation. Here some basic types of architectural drawings and tools related to them.

Floor plan.

You can think of a floor plan as a drawing of the design objective. A floor plan lays out a two dimensional view of the placement of walls, equipment, appliances and special features that address the overall design of the home on the horizontal plane. Floor plans include dimensions between walls, wall thicknesses and provide the opportunity for labeling and laying out certain design features. Floor plans also allow a place to cross reference interior elevations and cross sections that are included on other sheets or in other drawings in the set. However, a set of construction plans need to go well beyond what is included on a floor plan.

Site plan.

A site plan, similar to a floor plan, is a drawing on the horizontal plane which shows the design objective, but includes the entire property upon which the house is placed. Site plans lay out:

  • property line dimensions
  • set back lines that your local code might require
  • location of the house on the site
  • landscaping
  • paving
  • public utility connections
  • grading for drainage
  • any additional buildings

Site plans that are on undeveloped or underdeveloped ground might also include a demolition or removal plan for existing structures, vegetation or features that might need to be removed in order to build a home on the property.

Elevation Drawings.

Where the floor plan was a two dimensional representation of the design objective on the horizontal plane, an elevation shows the design on the vertical plane, or what the walls and roof would look like if you were facing them. Elevation drawings can include front, back and each of the two sides of your home. Like floor plans, elevations provide a place to label certain design features and materials as well as reference details and cross sections that are included on other sheets of on other drawings. Elevations also include dimension lines that correspond directly to dimensions included on the floor plan which relate to the exterior wall and its features, such as windows and doors.

Detail drawings.

Detail drawings go into greater detail concerning how the foundation, walls, roof, cabinetry and special features of the design are to be constructed. Detail drawings include such things as interior elevations, enlarged plans or elevations of a particular feature, and cross sections. They typically show more specific design features, more precise dimensions and specify the use of particular materials and construction methods. In essence, they are the nuts and bolts of a set of construction plans.

Cross section drawings.

Cross section drawings are a type of detail drawing that cuts through the vertical plane so that a builder can get a view of how the home is constructed. Cross sections are typically referenced on both the floor plan and elevation plans with an arrow indicating the direction that you are looking when you view the cross section. Cross sections can show the overall, general view of the whole house or a larger view of a particular portion of a wall, foundation or roof connection. Cross sections show detailed dimensions of specified materials and their placement in the construction process. They can also show the construction of such things as fireplaces and custom cabinetry.

Working drawings

Working drawings refer to a set of construction plans. Working drawings are sometimes referred to as a building set and include site plans, floor plans, elevations, cross sections, interior elevations and detail drawings. They will typically also include a foundation and roofing plan as well as a plan for electrical outlets, lighting, plumbing and mechanical features. These drawings are necessary to specify the materials used and how the finished design is to be put together.

Isometric and axonometric projections.

The drawings in a set of working drawings or a construction set are done in a two dimensional view, however, it is sometimes difficult for people to see exactly how their finished home will look in our three dimensional world. In order to help clients get a better overall picture of their design, but are of little use in the construction process. Isometric projections are drawn by extending a particular corner vertically and then extending correlating horizontal lines at 30 degrees from the vertical point where the three meet. Axonometric projections are the same, but extend 45 degrees and are typically more useful to show interior instances of a drawing where isometrics are used for exterior.

Presentation drawings.

Presentation drawings often include isometric and axonometric projects as a part of a presentation. Presentation drawings are also not helpful in the construction process, but are useful in showing clients how their building will look in a three dimensional finished state. Presentation drawings often include design features, furniture, people, automobiles and landscaping in an attempt to create a view of what the building and its surroundings will look like when it is in use. These buildings are often used in fundraising or scenarios when designers are competing for a contract with a client.

Survey drawings.

Survey drawings are legal documents that are created by a licensed surveyor. Survey drawings are a map of a property which outlines its boundaries and physical dimensions, as well as the relative position of the house, sheds, fences, and other structures on the property. These drawings are an essential part of beginning the construction process and provide the proper orientation for laying out site plan drawings. Without a survey drawing, you risk intruding on or placing structures on property that isn’t legally yours; something that can open up a whole can of legal issues that you don’t want or need.

Record drawings

Record drawings are a revised set of drawings that are submitted after the completion of the project. They are called such, because they are the drawings that will be put on record with the city. These drawings reflect dimensional, specification or design changes that took place while the project was under construction. Record drawings might also be referred to as “as built drawings” and they are usually what are referred to for taxation and other legal purposes.


Drafting is a process by which a draftsman, architect, designer or engineer communicates how something is to be designed or built. Draftsmen are experts at taking a visualized concept and creating a two dimensional or three dimensional rendering that can be used as a map to guide a builder through the construction process. Before computers came into play, drafting included the use of a particular set of geographical construction instruments including: drawing pencils, t-squares, triangles, protractors, compasses, scales and templates. Drafting before the computer age also included one more essential tool that is likely the reason that computer aided drafting was invented; an eraser.

Computer aided design

CAD, computer aided design or drafting, is an essential tool in our modern age. Because drafting longhand takes so much more time and changes have to be made with an eraser, CAD has greatly enhanced the speed and accuracy by which drafting is performed. In addition to being able to draw with more speed and accuracy, a draftsman, using CAD can create three dimensional renderings for presentation with ease. There are different levels of CAD on the market, which even beginners can learn to use, though most of them do not have the necessary features to create a set of professional working drawings.

Architectural reprographics

Since builders can’t build a building by looking at a computer screen, architectural reprographics are a necessary part of the designing and building process. In essence, CAD drawings are printed on large sized laser printers that produce scale drawing sheets from which blue prints are made. Though the process is much different from what it used to be, blue prints are essentially copies of the original printed drawings.


Architectural drawings provide a road map, so to speak, for the builder. Within a set of working drawings or construction plans, draftsmen, designers, architects, surveyors and engineers provide detailed instructions that lead to the finished design objective, which is the construction of your home.

What is an architect and why might you need one?

An architect is a design professional with special education and experience in the design and construction supervision of buildings for residential or commercial occupation. An architect does a great deal more than just draw floor plans, but many people don’t understand the full scope of their work. We’ll answer five questions about architects so that you can become more familiar with their work and why you might need one.

What is an architect?

An architect is a licensed professional who not only designs the layout of building, but also specifies, in detail, what materials will be used and how a building will be assembled. In essence, architecture is an art form that is combined with engineering, joining the concepts of both form (the appearance of the building) and function (how the space will be used). In essence, they wear both a creative and a technical hat.

What do architects do?

In the function of both a creative and technical professional architects perform a variety of functions such as, but not limited to:

  • Plan building design and material specifications
  • Make sure that all local building and life safety codes are met in the building’s design.
  • Apply for variances when special considerations need to be made for the client’s construction needs.
  • Develop a set of construction plans that are presented to builders in order to collect bids on the construction of a building.
  • Approve material changes and construction techniques.
  • Supervise construction to make sure that their design specifications are being met.
  • Give final approval for the building to be turned over to their client.

What sort of education do architects have?

Architects are required to obtain a professional degree (Master’s Degree) in architecture from a degree program that is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). Within an accredited program, an architect studies art, math, drafting and design, and environmental studies. In addition, they also learn structural, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering.

After receiving an accredited degree, architects must also participate in an Internship Development Program (IDP) with an already licensed architect within the state they hope to obtain their license. The number of hours required in an IDP varies from state to state, but most take about 3 years to complete. Following their education and internship, architects must pass all divisions of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) before licensure.

What professional qualifications do architects have to demonstrate?

Architects are rigorously tested over a number of different subject areas and they are required to pass on the ARE in order to be licensed. The test includes the application of knowledge and skills in the following areas:

  • Construction Documents & Services – project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration.
  • Programming, Planning & Practice – environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; project and practice management.
  • Site Planning & Design – site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.
  • Building Design & Construction Systems – building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, and project and practice management
  • Structural Systems – incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings.
  • Building Systems – selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction
  • Schematic Design – schematic design of buildings and interior space planning.

You can be assured that a licensed architect has the understanding and knowledge necessary to build a safe structure that will suit not only your aesthetic, but also your functional needs.

Why would you need an architect?

In some situations, a building, even residential, cannot be built without the approval of a licensed architect. In those cases, many builders, but not all, have an architect on staff to make sure that they are able to meet those requirements. In the event that you are unsure about certain code requirements, an architect is your best bet for understanding or obtaining a variance in relation to that code. If there are some particular engineering, environmental or space issues that need to be resolved during planning, an architect can provide the proper guidance to make sure those needs are met as well.


Though architects are not required for all residential building projects, they are the best professionals to consult where any issues or challenges arise with your home design, planning and structure. Architects have the combination of education and experience to either assist you in the design or provide the proper construction documents for building your home. In essence, if you have an issue that involves your building design or construction, consult an architect before it becomes a mess rather than after.