Architectural Articles

Deciphering The Building Within: How to Read Blueprints

To ensure that a new building or addition will be built as designed, architects use a variety of drawings prepared by hand and/or computer to be read by different audiences. Sketches, perspectives and renderings are used by the architect to develop the building's design and to show the owner what the interior and exterior of the finished building will look like three-dimensionally. On the other hand, blueprints (now called "blackline prints") are for the contractor, and show floor plans, elevations and construction details in exact dimensional and structural relationships. They are legal construction documents, signed and copyrighted by the architect.

These floor plans are often difficult for the owner to make sense of, however, because they are drawn only in two dimensions, length and width. The third dimension, height is represented separately on other drawings called elevations, which show exterior and interior walls of the building.

To help you read architectural prints, examine the floor plan and use your finger to trace your way through the rooms of the building. Begin by walking through the main door, through each room, along hallways, up and down the stairs, and back outside. Do this several times, following different routes. Then imagine yourself driving up to the building, parking, and entering as you would on a normal day. Mentally take in the views through the windows and across the rooms.

As you rehearse your daily routines on the floor plan, mark the circulation routes through the building with a highlighter pen to confirm that the layout of spaces enhances and not inhibits your circulation patterns. Ask yourself if the floor plan adequately separates public spaces from private spaces, noisy rooms from quite ones.

By learning how to interpret the drawings, you will not only have a clear sense of what your building will actually be like, but your architect will be able to effectively interpret your needs based on your understanding of his professional plans.

Published in The Home Edition, Carmel Publishing Co.

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