Architect Skills

Building Blueprints – The Creation and Burden

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Posted By Matthew Von Dohre

Thru out history blueprints have been the directions on how a desired building or product should be built. They create an overall understanding of what it is to look like and show many details of how various components are to be built. They do not, however, show someone the exact process or step by step instructions on how to put the building or product together.

Blueprints provide the overall design, dimensions, and components that are the to be used to create the final desired outcome. In today’s construction industry we replace the term blueprint with the more formal term construction documents which relate to all documents used in the construction of a project.

Blueprint Format of Today

Today’s version of a blueprint has evolved from what was literally a physical piece of paper with a blue background and white lines to a white background with black lines. The blueprint process was based on an old monochrome photographic printing process that produced a cyan-blue copy of a hand drawing construction plan.

The original type of blueprint and where the name originated from

The blueprint process was developed by Sir John Herschel, an astronomer, and photographer in 1842.

Before that the blueprint was created in many different forms from drawn on linen cloths, to carved in stone or wood and others were produced on various types of parchment paper.

Today’s blueprints are similar to the original blueprints and the evolution has been based on the technology trend in the printing industry where today we print on large laser printers using black or colored toner.

Today most widely used format – Laser Printing
After the blueprint can the blue line, an inverse print.
Drawings printed on mylar that were used as the originals to make the blue line drawing copies, also known as record copies

The latest forms of blueprints that many people know today are digital where we represent a construction plan by having a white background with black lines.

However, with the digital formats, we are expanding back into the use of color since most are not being physically printed or if they are printed they can be done in grayscale to help with the delineation of the colors until the cost of color printing falls to be equal with that of the black and white.

The most commonly used format for digital printing used in the construction industry today is the PDF format. This format can be opened and used by many different applications which makes it easy for anyone to use this format.  

Creation of Blueprints

When creating blueprints I have learned a lot over the years and even more once I started to work in the field performing construction administration on our building projects that were under construction.

We as the creators spend months if not years drawing building plans to be used in the construction of a project and we become very intimate with the information in the drawings.

We then sometimes wonder why others have a hard time understanding what we had drawn as we created a picture of what the desired outcome should be, line by line.

As we create the drawings we have to think, Do these drawings contain enough information to allow for someone to create what we have shown? Also, we have to understand how qualified are the people who will implement the construction drawings for the project which can relate to how much information is needed in the construction documents for a project.

You always have to step back and ask yourself, is this enough information to build it as shown or do we need to add more information to clarify the desired outcome for the success of the project?

The Burden of Creation While Gaining an Understanding

The burden of a construction project lies with both the interpreters as well as the producers of the building drawings in how the information is understood for creating a building.

Those that are tasked with the interpretation of the design are indispensable and may not have the same formal training as the producers but are sometimes held to those same high standards as if they produced the drawings themselves.

The producers are generally ones who have received formal professional education with training under other experienced or certified professionals in their related fields on how the building drawings are to be created.

By spending more time in the field and on construction sites I have gained a better understanding and insight of those who are interpreting the drawings that we create. Additionally being onsite provides you with your insight as to what you have drawn and how it was constructed.

One of many construction job site walkthroughs on this office building that was getting close to completion.

Loss Of The Skilled Trades

Over the years the construction industry has been losing a great deal of skilled trade’s people who are generally tasked with the implementation of the construction drawings. An ongoing concern has arisen involving the process of inception to the completion of a building due to the reduction in the trades.

Those who are tasked with the creation and implementation must work together to understand what the ideas are behind a project, how those ideas are transformed and properly applied for the best possible outcome for a project. The art of reading and interpreting building drawings is something that is developed over time and handed down through the generations of the various skilled professions and trades.

A Few Key Elements for a Successful Building Projects

  • Education and Training
  • Communication and coordination
  • Understanding of the approach
  • Basic knowledge in the various trades  

Foster the Understanding

So remember that anyone can build anything!

By providing building blueprints or construction documents for a project we are creating a set of guidelines to follow for what a building should look like as well as how it should function.

Foster the mindset that what is drawn may not be the best interpretation of the desired outcome for a project to different people due to their experience with building blueprints.

Keep an open line of communication to facilitate coordination and answer questions about the project because, in the end, it could prove to be a huge success or failure for a building construction project.

I hope this provided you with insight and an understanding of blueprints. Let me know your thoughts and any suggestions in the comments below.


Matthew B. Von Dohre, AIA, ID, NCARB

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