Architecture Student Resources

Keeping An Architectural Project Process Binder

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Posted By Matthew Von Dohre

Old School Methods and Mentalities

While I was in my late architecture schooling I had a professor that taught us about the old school methods and mentalities that I have found very useful threw out my career.

He taught us many things and one that really stuck with me was the aspect of record-keeping of your design developments during a project.

We were required to keep sketches and hard copy prints of the progress thru out each project and turn them in at the end for review.

To this day I still have the binders from the two projects we did in his class which I use them to teach architecture students the importance of having these types of records for themselves.

The Loss of a Paper Trail with Increased Technology

With the increased use of technology, the architecture industry has been losing the paper trail that was used to record reviews, design changes and milestones with clients.

By having these records you are better able to understand the time involved with your project along with having a record that could be used in the event of a legal issue.

With technology we tend to make changes to drawings and documents in the same electronic file, not saving archives of changes made by our own explorations during the design process or recording the changes made by our clients.

By having these records it allows you to review how your project has developed and even record design ideas or concepts that you may not be able to implement on this project but could use on future projects.

Page after Page after Page

During the design process, a lot of ideas can be discovered while working through your concepts on a project.  

You may have heard that by hand sketching you will be able to record more information quicker than trying to draft it in a computer program, which is true.

I have personally found that once I start using a software program I become very particular about getting into the tiny details of drafting, while I should be focusing on the overall concept that I was developing.

By saving every sketch and printing hard copies you create that collection of documents that can show your development process of a project.

Printing and Sketching When in a Computer

Even while working in a computer program it is good to print hard copies of what you are working on, grab some tracing paper and sketch on top of the print.

This will allow you to try different styles or concepts without getting into the weeds with trying to model or draft something perfectly in software.

This method will also allow the free flow of ideas and quickly allow you to develop those various ideas and thoughts along with creating those records of your design process.

What is in an Architectural Project Process Binder

Architectural Project Process Binder

Binders are meant to be for separate design projects, each keeping a record of that specific project.

The binders can contain any type of sheets including graph paper, photocopy paper, trace paper, etc. as long as it is either cut or folded to fit with the binder.

Within the binder you should keep the following:

  • All issued assignments or project outlines
  • Schedule of dates for the project
  • Schematic sketches and drawings
  • Concept diagrams
  • Site analysis (written accounts of observing the site both day and night)
  • Site Parti
  • Program Analysis
  • Photocopies of precedent research
  • Preliminary design studies (plans, elevations, sections, perspectives)
  • Storyboard design/development drawings
  • Entourage Studies

Tips for Developing Concepts and Solutions

  • For each project, review the information given for that project and form an interpretation and response to the site.
  • Evaluate the program needs, the program or site constraints and understand the design goals for the project.
  • Develop some design concepts, explore structural systems, recognize and explore design opportunities.
  • Sketch design resolutions to the evaluated information above and take risks when developing these concepts and ideas.

An Example of an Architectural Process Binder

The project that I use the most when I talk to students about process binders is one from this class that I spoke of above.

The project was an interfaith chapel on our college campus which we named the USF World Peace Chapel.

The USF World Peace Chapel Concept

The concept for this came from the quote “Strength and Rigidity Yields to Softness and Fluidity.” The thin flowing concrete form rises from the earth curving over becoming the walls and roof for the chapel.

The binder has a compilation with hundreds of pages documenting the design process that I used for this project which included the many hand sketches, printed images of the 3d model I was working on, site analysis, site images, program and the many other items including the design of how to layout the final presentation.  

Site Plan Analysys
Concept Sketches for Developing the Plans
Concept Sketches for Developing the Plans
Floor Plan Development with Square Footage Calculations
Concept Sketch and 2D AutoCAD Floor Plan
3D Model Development
Final 3D Model before Hand Inking for Final Presentation
Test Inking of Drawing Before Final Presentation Drawings

Bringing It All Together And Start Your Binder

I hope that you have a better understanding of what an architectural project process binder is and how useful it can be in both architecture school as well as during your career in the industry.

By keeping these types of binders it allows you to have a record of the process for a particular project and also help keep records of other design thoughts or concepts that you could use on other projects in the future.

For me, it provides a great insight into the craft that I developed before I was so heavily involved in using computer software for creating building designs.

Thank you again for joining me and if you have any questions, comments, concerns or suggestions please leave them in the comments below.


Matthew. B. Von Dohre, AIA, RID, NCARB

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