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Other People’s [Drafting] Standards

There’s nothing wrong with a little professional voyeurism, right?

The now-universal use of computer-aided drafting means that we, as structural engineers, almost never create our plans from scratch. On nearly all projects, we receive architectural plans in the form of CAD files which we convert to use as backgrounds. We then draft the information which makes up the core of our plans on that background.

In order to keep our drawing files to a reasonable size, and in order to be sure that the distinction between background and foreground remains…distinct, we convert the architectural plans in a number of ways. We strip out the layers, we usually break down defined components (depending on the drawing and the CAD program, these could be called symbols, groups, components, or a bunch of other names), and we get rid of viewports and other ways of taking advantage of 3D and multiple views. In short, we get rid of what makes the drawings architectural: structural drawings are more diagrammatic than architectural and therefore one step more abstract. We don’t do this out a desire to vandalize our clients’ drawings but because of our need to present our information in a different format.

A side effect of this process is that we get to see various ways people draft. Our clients include a lot of different architects, with different training and different backgrounds, and so we see different styles. Since I see these styles while I am in the process of effectively destroying them it’s difficult to say that I prefer one to another, but one thought stands out about all drawings, including my own: a good drawing is a good drawing regardless of how the lines and arcs are registered in a database. A bad drawing is not improved by internal and invisible elegance.