Do you have an interest in architecture and were wondering what types of tools an architect uses? Or maybe you are an architecture student and were wondering how many of those expensive new tools you are going to lug with you into the profession?
You are in luck friends! I have put together a list of the top 5 Essential Tools For an Architect. These are the 5 tools that I use on a daily basis and are critical to my duties as a professional architect.
I have excluded the obvious tools that everyone on the planet uses like a computer and iPhone. Perhaps I will do a separate post one day on the programs and apps I use on my computer and iPhone.
Without further adieu:
5 Essential Tools For an Architect
(Listed in proper countdown style ending with the most important.)
#5 Messenger Bag
Satchel, man purse, murse, messenger bag. There are a lot of names for this bag. Architects often travel to meetings and to construction sites; therefore, it is important to have a stylish bag to carry their gear.
And for someone that rides their bike to work like me, this is an essential tool.
What's in my bag? Sketchbook, pens, (1) 12" roll of trace, tape measure, scale, iPad, ear buds and whatever drawings and notes I am toting around that week. I can also carry small sets of drawing in this bag.
I have found the iPad to be a very handy device. I am sure that other tablets such as the Microsoft Surface are just as handy, but like most design types I am a proud member of the Apple Cult.
I most commonly use my iPad for taking notes in meetings. Architects go to tons of meetings and it is important to document these things. I have been trying to use less and less paper. For environmental reasons and because I often lose the paper. The iPad keeps everything in one location.
I also have gotten into using the app PlanGrid for viewing architectural drawings on construction sites. The days of lugging large drawings sets to construction sites are behind us. Even contractors are now carrying around iPads as PlanGrid has lots of great features for viewing drawings and making it easy to jump around in a drawing set. It also allows you to create field reports and to do punch lists.
#3 Trace Paper
Like my man purse, this tool has many names: trace, scratch, scratch paper, trash, trash paper and bumwad.
There is a century old holy war happening among architects. That war is a fight over the preferred color of trace. Most folks prefer the standard white trace, others prefer the buff color and then there are some real rebels who rock canary yellow.
Although canary yellow was the trace of choice at Michael Graves & Associates, I have always been a white trace kind of guy. It is simple and clean. It scans well and it can be used for presentations.
I use a 12" roll of white trace on a daily basis. Mostly for doing very quick process sketches. The kind of drawings that are not going to win me any awards.
You never know when having a roll of trace will come in handy:
Despite what people think, architects don't use pencils very often. Most use pens. There are 3 pens that I use on a daily basis.
Pentel Sign Pen
If I was stuck on a desert island with just one pen it would be the magical pentel sign pen. The sign pen is extremely versatile as it is able to make very thin precise lines as well as broader heavy lines. I was first introduced to the sign pen at the University of Maryland Architecture School and it has been my favorite ever since. Go Terps!
I do need to add that the sign pen is most handy when it is brand new. Since it is a felt tip after a while the tip starts to wear and thinner lines are harder to achieve.
Pilot Razor Point Pen
Although the magical sign pen is capable of making thin lines, it is best to have a fine point pen also. At LS3P, I was introduced to the Pilot Razor Point Pen. I use this pen like I would a pencil. It makes a mark similar to a pencil except that it doesn't need to be sharpened. I can make very precise drawings or loose sketches. You could also write notes with this pen.
A red pen is very important for an architect. I prefer a red Pentel Sign Pen, but will also use a red sharpie. The most typical use for a red pen is for 'redlining' drawings. Redlining simply means that an architect uses a red pen to edit a set of drawings. Red works well because it is easy to see. Another architect or intern then takes the redlines and makes the revisions using a computer.
I also find a red pen helpful for adding accents to drawings. I will often free-hand sketch a drawing using the Pilot Razor Point Pen, then use the Pentel Sign Pen to add thicker lines and finish with a red pen for accents. The drawing below is a good example:
#1 Thick Skin
This is the most important tool. Some are born with it and others develop it.
An Architect Named Sue
One of my favorite Johnny Cash songs is A Boy Named Sue. In that beloved song Johnny tells the story of a boy who was named Sue by his father. Sue is now a man and stumbles upon his estranged father in a Gatlinburg saloon. Sue was a bit pissed at his dad for naming him Sue not to mention ditching his family so when he finds his dad, he approaches him and says, "My name is Sue, how do you do? Now you're gonna die."
After a pretty vicious bar fight that included crocodile biting and a knife to the ear, both men pull out their guns and then the father of Sue says:
"Son, this world is rough and if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough. And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along. So I give ya that name and I said goodbye. I knew you'd have to get tough or die. And it's the name that helped to make you strong."
Now that's what you call tough love!
An architect needs to be tough. This is a very difficult job.
A big part of it involves presenting your ideas to other people and then receiving criticism. It starts in architecture school when your professors lambaste you for your sophomoric designs and it continues into the profession. You will receive criticism from your colleagues, your boss and if you are like me, an entire city!
In Charleston, I am often involved with highly politicized projects. I commonly present to neighborhoods, Historic Preservation Groups, and design review boards. These projects also make their way into the local newspapers and facebook groups. I'd like to say that my work is well received, but on occasion people will say some pretty mean things. Here are some of my favorite quotes about projects I have been involved with:
- "This building will cast a pall over the neighborhood."
- "Are you like me and you have had enough LS3P projects?"
- "Mr. Ramos, tell me how your building is beautiful?"
- "Your design for this facade looks like a 5 minute exercise."
I will admit that some of these comments stung, but I do my best to brush them off or laugh about them. Dealing with criticism is part of the job and you have got to have thick skin.
That is my top 5 Essential Tools for an Architect
But wait...there's more!
These items did not make the cut because I do not use them on a daily basis. Nonetheless they are great tools that every architect should have.
All Architects have something called 'Sketchbook Guilt.' We all wish that we drew more in our sketchbook. Myself included.
My sketchbook of choice is the black moleskin sketchbook. I always keep a few of them at one time. Usually one in my satchel, one in the office and a couple at home. It is the perfect size for quick sketches and is great for taking notes. And it looks great.
Steve Ramos Fun Fact: About a year ago I became an ordained minister online in order to officiate a wedding for my wife's cousin. Since that wedding I have performed a handful of other ceremonies and for each one I have used a moleskin sketchbook to hold the ceremony. I have been taping the ceremony into the sketchbook. You can see this in the center sketchbook above.
Most people assume I am holding a bible but jokes on them...it is a sketchbook!
I use a scale almost on a daily basis. The layperson sees this thing and thinks it is just a ruler. It is very similar to a ruler except it is used for measuring scaled drawings. For example, if I am looking at an 1/8 scale floor plan I use the portion of the scale that says 1/8 which stands for 1/8" = 1'. So if I measure something on the drawing that is 1" on my scale, then the scale will say 8'.
An architect scale has 6 sides and each side has 2 different scales except for one side which has 1/16 and a basic imperial scale ruler. These are the 11 scales found on an architect's scale and they are the scales commonly used for architectural drawings:
- 1 1/2" = 1'
- 3/4" = 1'
In addition to an architect's scale it is also important to have an engineering scale. Civil and landscape drawings are often in engineering scales such as 1"=10', 1"=20', etc. They work in scales of 10 which honestly makes more sense. But that is a topic for another blog.
The basic components of a drafting table are: a flat surface with a soft rubber cover, a slight upright angle and a slide ruler. The slide ruler allows you to make horizontal lines that are always parallel and triangles are used for making vertical and angled lines.
Truth is I haven't used my slide ruler or triangles in a long time. I probably use them 5 times a year. Most of the time I just use the surface for free-hand sketching which is why I didn't put the drafting table in the top 5. But it is definitely nice to have.
What tools do you use?
I have showed you my weapons. What are you packing?
I would love to hear about what other architects and design professionals are using. These are my favorites, but every architect is different.
The incorporation of the computer into the architect's office has drastically reduced the number of tools an architect uses. Back in the drafting days there were all types of cool gadgets used to make a drawing sing. Fortunately things have gotten simpler.
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Check out my new book: Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect