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Architectural Design Drafting - UK & US

Author: Kuldeep Bwail
by Kuldeep Bwail
Posted: Feb 03, 2019
architectural design

First, there is a dream, a vision of a space. Designing buildings is a technological feat that adds precise detail to that dream. Modern architectural software facilitates the architectural design drafting process to follow the dream as closely as possible. Architectural design and detailing services create drawings and models on which structures across the globe are built. The use of modern technology, sound infrastructure and aesthetic designs regulated by building codes to bring the dream to life is an accepted feature of construction in the West, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. In general, these countries have adopted the use of BIM (Building Information Modelling) in residential construction, resulting in long-term benefits.

Efficient construction practice in both the UK and the US requires standardisation on several levels. To standardise drawing exchange and management, effective CAD composition is important. A ‘finished’ CAD drawing will include all references, drawing borders and notes. Typically, the finished drawing will include ‘model space’, containing references formatted to suit the drawing, usually with no elements, and ‘sheet space’, the layout environment within a drawing border including text, dimensions, border text but generally with no elements.

Architectural design drafting projects can consist of a variety of categories, such as architectural home plan design, commercial design, industrial design and institutional facilities design, to name a few. With single-source support, a wide range of architectural design and detailing solutions can assist high-end design activities for commercial structures, institutional buildings and electronics technology industries.

Architectural drafting consists of phases that are typically common to both countries, namely:

Schematic Design (SD) - The first phase of design involves discussions of requirements between the architect and the owner. Research and property analysis are carried out, including zoning and building code issues. The size, location and relationships between spaces is determined and the basic design is decided. Drawings are generated.

Design Development (DD) - During the design development phase, the architect and owner select materials, including interior finishes, windows. doors, fixtures, appliances and materials. Drawings are revised with more detail than in the earlier phase. Engineering will commence, consisting of plumbing, electrical, heating/ventilation systems design and energy analysis.

Construction Documents (CD) - During this phase, the architect and engineers finalise the technical design, structural engineering and detailing, MEP engineering, gas, energy calculations, and all materials are selected and scheduled. Multiple drawing sets are generated, including a filing set for approvals from the concerned authorities and a separate set of construction drawings.

Catering to each of these phases and diverse ranges in commercial design, industrial design and special purpose buildings, architectural services consist of providing site and location plans, building layouts, floor plans, elevations, sections, roof framing plans, foundation plans, details and wall sections according to predetermined needs, budget and schedules.

Regardless of the country of origin, architectural drafting services, architectural detailing services and residential drafting services can serve architects who are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in the US and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in the UK.

The services provided for architects encompass a range of sectors and their requirements, such as:

Retail/Shop Fitting - Complete construction drawing sets (CD sets) can be useful for leading retail chains, incorporating every aspect of space planning, interior design and construction. Plans, elevations and sections can be provided for food and beverage outlets, clothing and fashion retailers, electronics retailers, department stores and specialist retailers, helping to grow these businesses.

Homebuilders - Complete construction sets for new homes can include lot-specific details and address-specific drawings for both single-unit and multi-unit dwellings. Large homebuilders from the US and the UK can even consider using a dedicated offshore resource team to work with local teams to produce architectural drawings to local standards.

Commercial - Architectural drawings can be created for a range of commercial projects, including corporate premises, hotels and restaurants. The design documentation team details the drawings according to AIA or RIBA standards.

Healthcare/Education - A design development team can provide detailed designs of public hospitals and educational facilities, including larger healthcare/hospital, school and college projects.

These services are made possible with a selection of software solutions. Initially, the first tools to aid architects helped produce the many drawings needed for any large project. A new workflow and structural analysis were instituted to generate drawings efficiently and track changes throughout the design stages of a project with BIM technology.

The more popular applications are AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Revit, InfraWorks, Navisworks Manage for architectural design drafting and structural analysis. Though many architectural CAD drafting services now use Revit Architecture and ArchiCAD for all design stages, including tender, planning, construction and facility management for industrial, commercial, retail and residential projects, several options are preferred in both the UK and the US. Some of the them are:

3DS Max

  • a flexible modelling system with powerful plug-ins- one of the first to offer hardware

-accelerated rendering of 3D images

  • creates visuals and fly-through animations to promote a project

AutoCAD Architecture

  • efficient keyboard shortcuts
  • Autodesk integrated for building design work- provides pre
  • built objects for walls, doors, windows and mechanisms


  • highly efficient BIM
  • orientated design tool
  • smart object connectivity
  • specifically created for complex projects that need BIM
  • enables design, modelling, coordination

Sketchup Pro 2018

  • user-friendly modelling tool
  • extensive object library
  • excellent for rapidly prototyping a design at conceptual stage

Along with the right software tools, architectural drafting services in the UK and US are governed by the standards set by their respective authorities. The US National CAD Standards (NCS) establishes standard guidelines for presenting building design information, used to organise construction drawings for all projects and project delivery methods, extending to the entire life cycle of a structure. It covers standard conventions for drawings, such as drawing orientations, layouts, symbols, material indications, line types, dimensions, drawing scales, diagrams, notations and cross-referencing. Code conventionsare also Identified by the NCS regarding the types of data that should feature on drawings, finding code-related information on a set of drawings and providing standard graphic conventions.

The US NCS consists of several modules that discuss parts of the drawing process, such as:

Drawing Sets – sheet order, identification, etc.

Sheets – sheet format, title blocks, sizes, etc.

Schedules – guidelines for doors, windows, etc.

Drafting Conventions – process notes for projects

Terms and Abbreviations – standard terms

Symbols – standard blocks

Notations – guidelines for attaching and linking notes

Code Conventions – regulatory annotations

The AEC (UK) CAD Standards Initiative, formed in 2000, was instituted to improve design information management and exchange. The 2007 Regulations Approved Code of Practice suggests that pre-construction information include:

  • Project description, with key dates, contact details
  • Project arrangements:
  1. Planning and management of construction
  2. Communication and liaison
  3. Security
  4. Site transport
  5. Permit-to-work systems
  6. Fire precautions
  7. Emergency procedures
  8. Means of escape
  9. Authorisation requirements
  10. Confined spaces
  11. Smoking and parking restrictions
    • Safety hazards
  • 1. Boundaries and access
  • 2. Restrictions on deliveries, waste collection or storage
  • 3. Adjacent land uses
  • 4. Ground conditions
  • 5. Existing structures
  • 6. Health and safety information, ‘as-built’ drawings
    • Health hazards
  • 1. Asbestos
  • 2. Contaminated land
  • 3. Client’s activities
  • 4. Storage of hazardous materials
    • Design and construction hazards
  • 1. Working methods
  • 2. Coordination of ongoing work
  • 3. Risks identified during design
  • 4. Materials requiring specific precautions

All local authority building control teams in England work as part of the local authority building control (LABC) network. The building control application is submitted, then plans and calculations are checked and approved. Quotes can be obtained, contractors can be appointed and materials can be ordered.

A building control surveyor will inspect the work at various stages, providing advice and guidance and will inspect:

  1. Foundations
  2. Ground and floors
  3. Damp proofing
  4. Roof structure
  5. Drainage
  6. Structural beams and openings
  7. Fire proofing
  8. Thermal insulation

A completion visit is conducted by the surveyor to make sure the building meets all building regulations before occupancy. With the surveyor’s approval, a completion certificate is issued.

Though the practice, workflow, software employed and regulations are similar for the two countries, a few differences are prevalent in home design due to the availability of space and weather constraints. They concern placement of power outlets, mailboxes, types of faucets, closets, home sizes, laundry and garbage disposal methods.

Architectural drafting and detailing services require expensive technical staff, hardware and software. Outsourcing these services opens up time and opportunities to focus on other core business activities and helps reduce costs and time while benefitting from quality technical output. Architectural firms in the UK and the US are increasingly looking overseas for cost-effective, quality architectural design drafting.

About the Author

Kuldeep Bwail, Director at XS CAD, providing 3D Architectural Modelling,3D BIM Modeling to Homebuilder, Architect

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Author: Kuldeep Bwail

Kuldeep Bwail

Member since: Dec 03, 2013
Published articles: 51

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