The 21st Century Architectural Graphics Manifesto

In 1932 Charles Ramsey and Harold Sleeper published the first edition of the Architectural Graphics Standards. A look through its pages shows that a lot of things haven’t changed much since then about how we use graphics to document design intent. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I also think that since the technology we use to create the designs and document them is completely different now, we should be making changes to our architectural graphics to leverage that technology.

The idea for a new set of guidelines around architectural graphics has been rolling around in my head for a while. I began altering my thinking on this topic when I started transforming the way I do my job with new software about 15 years ago. That new software made me rethink workflows first, which was challenging and made me question the wisdom of changing software in the first place, but it ultimately paid off when I could see that my work had gotten better from all of these changes. Once I was at that point, I started owning up to the idea the the way we graphically represented things could change too. Colleagues had a big influence on my thinking, and not just peers, but younger people with less experience had refreshing ideas and challenges to the graphics status quo too. Here, I’ll organize my own guidelines into The 21st Century Architects Graphics Manifesto.


Using BIM properly means changing a lot of dated ways of documenting buildings. For the documentation and the graphical annotations that go with it, the priority needs to be on using BIM’s smart linkages and ability to intelligently recognize model elements as opposed to manually annotating things as we did with CAD and manual drafting. Rethink schedules. Rethink markers. Rethink noted call-outs. Rethink it all. Ask yourself: if it ain’t automated, then what do you need to do to make it automated? Whatever the answer to that question is what 21st century annotation looks like. And what it looks like is often different from how it was done in the past, and that’s just fine. Making these kinds of changes surprised me when it came to the resiliency of contractors and vendors, who took documentation that looked a lot different and ran with it successfully.

Lineweight & Hatching

This is another place where BIM causes a rethinking of the old ways. Software developers have improved their offerings and added features to automate lineweights, but for those trying to force CAD-based thinking onto BIM, those features won’t be enough. And when those same people are in charge, it sends the production staff into a tailspin of budget-breaking hours and QA lapses trying to get an elevation or something like that too look “just so.” There are questions to ask yourself with this topic too: since BIM expands our capabilities with regard to hatching and customizing linework display based upon specific views, how can that improve the reading of the drawn elements? This is a good time to review the lineweights you use and simplify them. I was surprised how much better the drawings looked than the CAD days with these kinds of changes — things appeared simpler, cleaner and easier to understand. If you want, save your complex lineweighting for details, which haven’t changed much since the CAD days in terms of drafting, but the automated BIM elements need the new set of rules and thinking.


Color is very much connected to the points I made on lineweights and hatching. I’ve been slowly introducing color into my deliverables. Color has pretty much always been a part of my design phase deliverables, but now I’m starting to include it in CD phase deliverables too. I think color in CDs has huge potential and it doesn’t have to be over the top either. Just using some subdued hues in restrained ways within the documentation really helps the information pop. Think not just of coloring materials, but of color coding spaces or elements using highlighter-type colors to help explain design intent. Color schedules to make them easier to read, color call-outs to make them stand out, color code things instead of using call-outs to reduce clutter. Remember, with BIM, color can be automated too.

3D Representation

In the early days of BIM adoption (and sometimes even today) you’d see a drawing in a sheet or even a whole sheet dedicated to an isometric view of the BIM. No annotation or anything else, just that 3D view. Then and now it’s still common to see a perspective view of the BIM on a cover sheet as well. These are nice, but 3D views of the BIM can be so much more. When assembling CDs in the BIM era I’m always thinking about what in the documentation is easier and more clear to show in 3D instead of the usual orthographic views — and not just as an isometric either because sometimes a perspective view is helpful for conveying design intent in the CDs. Combine all of this with color as mentioned earlier and now you’ve really got some powerful documentation. Use all three dimensions of your BIM regularly in your CD deliverables.

Sketching (if applicable)

I’ve tried many apps and Linea Sketch is the best!

The design phase has quickly bifurcated into the algorithmic design and sketch design camps. They’re both fine by me. The algorithmic camp has tools to connect their design work directly into the BIM authoring tools though, and sketching doesn’t. This doesn’t mean we need to avoid sketching, I just think that we need to use different sketching tools now. All sketching should be done digitally with a stylus on a tablet. These digital tools bring new ways to iterate, new effects to explain ideas, and some even let hand drawing get translated into vector-based linework for importation into the BIM. Just having a native digital copy of the sketch that imports nicely even without vectors is helpful in turning sketches into models. Added bonus: no graphite or ink all over the edge of your hand (left-handers know the pain).

Modernizing the CDs

All of these efforts made me realize that a lot of the graphic standards I’d used for years were looking kind of dated in the digital world. This part of the manifesto is strictly personal preference, but I found it made a refreshing difference in the visual quality of deliverables. Specifically, I left behind any fonts or hatches that were skeuomorphic representations of hand drafting. Probably super controversial in some circles, but there’s no good reason to do either the old timey look or the modern look, so I’m going modern, just like the technology I used to make it. Logic!

And Lastly, the Adoption of Standards

The US National CAD Standard applies to BIM too!

I’ve saved the best for last! Imagine a world where all architects use a single set of standards for their architectural graphics and sheet layout. I know that’s a real stretch because very few things seem to divide us more than how shit should look on paper, but just imagine it for a second. Next, imagine all the amazing things that software developers could do if they could focus less on customization tools for their their users to infinitely tweak the appearance of something like a section marker and instead pour that energy into making a single section marker that was super intelligent and feature-packed. Imagine that same kind of change for all the other stuff that we all do slightly differently from each other, but mostly the same. Next, imagine spending less time training new staff since everyone everywhere uses the same standards — also think about the quality of everyone’s work improving because the standards are a constant rather than a confusing moving target from firm to firm.

Does this imagination exercise help you become less clingy to your special and unique and clearly-the-best-in-your-opinion way of doing architectural graphics? No? Okay. Fine. You probably hate this whole article anyway. 😤 Neeeeext!

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