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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 assist a building contractor to construct it based on design intent, as a record of the design and planned development, or to make a record of a building that already exists.
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This section deals with the conventional views used to represent a building or structure. See the Types of architectural drawing section below for drawings classified according to their purpose.
A sketch is a rapidly executed freehand drawing, a quick way to record and develop an idea, not intended as a finished work. A diagram could also be drawn freehand but deals with symbols, to develop the logic of a design. Both can be worked up into a more presentable form and used to communicate the principles of a design.
Architectural legend often refers to designs made on the back of an envelope or on a napkin. Initial thoughts are important, even if they have to be discarded along the way, because they provide the central idea around which the design can develop. Although a sketch is inaccurate, it is disposable and allows for freedom of thought, for trying different ideas quickly. Choice becomes sharply reduced once the design is committed to a scale drawing, and the sketch stage is almost always essential.
An exploded view diagram shows component parts dis-assembled in some way, so that each can be seen on its own. These views are common in technical manuals, but are also used in architecture, either in conceptual diagrams or to illustrate technical details. In a cutaway view parts of the exterior are omitted to show the interior, or details of internal construction. Although common in technical illustration, including many building products and systems, the cutaway is in fact little-used in architectural drawing.
Drawings intended to explain a scheme and to promote its merits. Working drawings may include tones or hatches to emphasize different materials, but they are diagrams, not intended to appear realistic. Basic presentation drawings typically include people, vehicles and trees, taken from a library of such images, and are otherwise very similar in style to working drawings. Rendering is the art of adding surface textures and shadows to show the visual qualities of a building more realistically. An architectural illustrator or graphic designer may be employed to prepare specialist presentation images, usually perspectives or highly finished site plans, floor plans and elevations etc.
Until the latter part of the 20th century, all architectural drawings were manually produced, if not by the architects, then by trained (but less skilled) draftsmen (or drafters), who did not generate the design, but did make many of the less important decisions. This system has continued with CAD drafting: many design architects have little or no knowledge of CAD software programmes, relying upon others to take their designs beyond the sketch stage. Draftsmen often specialize in a type of structure, such as residential or commercial, or in a type of construction: timber frame, reinforced concrete, prefabrication, etc.
Reprographics or reprography covers a variety of technologies, media, and support services used to make multiple copies of original drawings. Prints of architectural drawings are still sometimes called blueprints, after one of the early processes which produced a white line on blue paper. The process was superseded by the dye-line print system which prints black on white coated paper (Whiteprint). The standard modern processes are the ink-jet printer, laser printer and photocopier, of which the ink-jet and laser printers are commonly used for large-format printing. Although colour printing is now commonplace, it remains expensive above A3 size, and architect's working drawings still tend to adhere to the black and white / greyscale aesthetic.