How Can Architects Produce More Effective Construction Documents? by @FrankCunhaIII

Ask the Architect

by Frank Cunha III

What are some inherent problems with producing Construction Drawings?

  • Some details are not build-able.
  • Budget.
  • Schedule.
  • Inaccurate references and/or dimensions.
  • Missing information.
  • Coordination (or lack of).

How can we make the construction process better?

  • Make better CDs (drawings and specifications) upfront instead of waiting for a problem in the field to solve later.
  • Make drawings sufficient. Do not keep adding drawings, but coordinate the ones you have – in other words know when to say when. The drawings will never be as complete as you would like, but do not compromise the coordination of the drawings.
  • Remember: the drawings have to be sufficient to meet the required “standard of care.”
  • As time goes on the cost of a mistake rises (exponentially). It is important to avoid mistakes early on preferable before bid or construction phase.
  • Quality Control (QC) is too late at the end of CD phase or Construction phase.

What are some goals during the Construction Document phase?

  • Productivity (design with standards for efficiency when ever possible).
  • Thorough, user friendly (for the code officials, general contractor, and subcontractors).
  • Sufficient information.
  • Good coordination.
  • Consistency (look and feel of drawings).

How can Architect, Engineer, or Designer manage information more efficiently?

  • Have standard sheets and details (cover sheets, partition types, toilet details, window details, door schedule and details, finish schedule, millwork/casework schedule and details, sealant schedule, miscellaneous metals schedules, etc.)
  • Focus on “atypical” details.
  • Show dimensions, quantities on a single drawing to avoid conflicts. Do not repeat similar notes. Put all of typical notes on one detail and refer other details back to typical detail.
  • Follow principle of single statement – reduction of redundancy.
  • Be frugal: use time and resources wisely.
  • Avoid using similar scales (i.e., 1/8” and 1/16” OR 1/4” and 1/2”) whenever possible because information will be similar. Jump up or down at least 2 scales to avoid redundancy.
  • How are words and #’s perceived? Reference with words rather than #’s. Keep key notes straightforward and simple.
  • Wall section should be a “road map” like a plan where vertical dimensions and details are referenced. Avoid referencing typical conditions where possible.
  • Think of CDs as a story board (i.e., “defrag” your working drawings like you “defrag” you computer). Begin with the end in mind!
  • Include a schedule and instruction system at the front of the set to make it easier for the contractor to reference. Do not split up details that are related (i.e., keep plan, details, section details together not on ‘standard” sheets 20 drawings away from referenced drawing; keep references close, preferably on the same/next sheet when possible). This will make the subcontractor’s work easier and the construction process more efficient.
  • Save time by creating schedules for sealants and miscellaneous metals so you do not have to include them in every detail.
  • Coordinate, cross-reference, and remove redundancies from construction drawings and specifications.

How can an Architect, Engineer, or Designer save time on Typical Details?

  • Create a default: Select the most common type of door and state that is the typical door unless otherwise noted. Try to minimize the documentation of exceptions by creating different typical conditions. This way you only have to document the exceptions or atypical situations and avoid redundancy.
  • Try to figure out what is different that the default and illustrate those conditions.

We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post.  We sincerely appreciate all your comments.

If you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

Frank Cunha III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

P.O. Box 335, Hamburg, NJ 07419
mobile: 201.681.3551
direct: 973.970.3551
fax: 973.718.4641
Licensed in NJ, NY, PA, DE, CT.

12 Comments on “How Can Architects Produce More Effective Construction Documents? by @FrankCunhaIII”

  1. ticat928 says:

    Frank, this should be required reading for anyone that plans to become an Architect, I have suffered many years dealing with the deficiencies you point out.

    The company that I had worked for actually implemented a similar streamlining to our submittal drawings, it ended up putting our Engineering Department in the black for the first time in a decade


  2. Marc Parette says:

    Frank, I think your missive should be part of every young architect’s first day on the job and reviewed every year there-after. I’m not sure I agree with every line but 95% is spot-on.


  3. Erick says:

    Good points, its important to get your project team on board on standards so each project follows the same criteria and have your ‘brand of architecture’ written all over it. You also have to consider that each person has a different drafting style and speed and mode of operation. It’s good to harness what each person has to offer and corrected any deficiencies through discussion and progress meetings. Standardization is the key, but a set of drawings should also have fluidity and not allow too much uncessary ‘fluff’ or too much redundancy.

    Just my 5 cents, thanks!


  4. Phil Kabza says:

    I looked in vain for the word “specifications” in your checklist. Do add some comments that recognize what is stated in the AIA A201: that drawings and specifications are instruments of service and are complementary in nature. To know what should not be duplicated on drawings, you should know what is in specifications, and to know what should be on drawings, you should know what the specifications assume the drawings will portray. You cannot properly practice architecture without reasonable acquaintance with the content of specifications, even if you do not master the discipline of preparing specifications. A practitioner who knows how the system works can reduce drawing content by 25 percent, prepare more accurate documents, and reduce time spent resolving conflicts during the construction phase. All of this is very well taught in CSI’s Construction Document Technology program.


    • fc3arch says:

      Phil, construction documents encompasses both “drawings” and “specs” but I appreciate your constructive criticism and will update the post. Thanks so much for reading (and re-reading) and commenting!!! Appreciate it. Frank


  5. Jim White AIA, CSI says:

    Frank, a couple of more comments from a fellow architect:
    1. Both readability and consistency in the drawings are critical. Don’t over-detail, but ensure that all built elements are indicated and noted. Kind of hard to clearly explain- it comes with experience and lots of time both in the office and in the field.
    2. Details need to be designed by experienced and qualified staff, not the new intern. This is especially true of anything having to do with the building envelope that can be susceptible to moisture intrusion. BIM will bite those who use CAD jockeys to generate models (and model details) rather than using experienced architects.
    3. Consistency and readability comes from using consistent drawing standards thru-out the entire CD team. Keep the standards simple and enforce them. IMHO and experience, there is no way around this. Make a set of office CD standards, distribute them to all staff and consultants. Make sure you get input and feedback from all team members before implementing them. This goes for both drawings and specifications. These documents are YOUR documents- get them the way you want them and keep them that way.
    4. Get your specification writer involved early in the design process and keep him (her) fully involved all the way thru bidding at the very least. To fully understand the design intent, they have to get inside the designer’s head. This takes time and lots of input and feedback from all parties.
    5. All your hard work will go to waste if you can’t keep the project within budget and get it done on time. The owner has to have a realistic budget and scope right up front, and to keep it there requires quite a bit of effort on the architect’s part ensuring it starts there and stays there until the job is complete. If the client’s scope or budget is unrealistic and they refuse to make reasonable adjustments to either or both, this project will be a money loser for you. Plan accordingly.


  6. fc3arch says:

    Works great for smaller projects. Thank you for your insight!


  7. […] How Can Architects Produce More Effective Construction Documents? Answered by @FrankCunhaIII […]


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