The Evolving Role of the Construction Drawing

Construction drawings are the lifeblood of any construction project, and without it, there would be no construction.  Construction drawings are sometimes called working drawings and include architectural, engineering, plumbing, and electrical plans. These drawings provide all the information about the project both graphic and written and are used by all who are involved in the construction project. 

Today, construction blueprints are made using computer-aided design (CAD drawings), and the trend is slowly gearing towards Building Information Modeling (BIM). Modern blueprints are manipulated, stored and shared among team members using construction drawing and specification management software. But with all these technologies available to help with the construction drawings, one can’t help but wonder how did construction drawings look like before the advent of technology? Let’s take a quick walk in history and find out how construction drawings evolved from the medieval age and where the future of construction drawings is going. 

Ancient Period 

During the time when the ancient megalith structures like the pyramids were built, it’s unknown if our ancestors from the ancient times worked from any form of construction drawing because so little evidence has been left for us to find. Although did find an Egyptian logbook from a papyrus in 2013 detailing the construction of the project which included the tools used, the money paid, and the name of the person in charge, but no construction drawing in any form was found.

 The oldest “ construction drawing” that we know today is found in the Temple of Apollo at Didyma in Grece. This ‘construction drawing’ was found in an unfinished stone wall which was found etched with the profiles of columns and moldings. The wall was never finished so the drawing was not erased, and in effect giving us a rare glimpse into the history of construction drawings. 

The Medieval Period– The Beginning of The Construction Drawing

The blueprint as we know it appeared in its earliest form during the medieval times. The oldest known surviving architectural plan, and is considered by some historians as the beginning of the blueprint as we know it now, is the plan of St. Gall. The plan is considered as the national treasure of Switzerland and has been the object of fascination and intense interest among modern draftsmen, architects and engineers alike because it gave us a rare glimpse into the architectural landscape of the middle ages. The plan was never built, and it got its name because it was kept at the famous medieval monastery library at the Abbey of St. Gall where it still remains until this day.

The plan shows an entire Benedictine monastic compound including churches, houses, stables, kitchen, workshops, brewery, infirmary and even a special house for bloodletting. The plan was created by sewing five parchments together measuring 45 inches by 31 inches and drawn in red ink lines for the buildings and brown ink for the lettered inscriptions.  The plan is drawn to an unusual scale of 1/16 inch to a foot because the plan was built to fit into the limited size of the parchment.

The Renaissance Period

The characters of the buildings being built during the Renaissance changed because it was influenced by the invention of the moveable type, the reformation and the rediscovery of the writings of Vitruvius – a Roman author, architect, civil engineer, military engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his multi-volume work – De architectura.   

During this time, the drawings that surfaced during this period looked a lot like the modern blueprints as we know it today. It is during this time that architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi, the father of the modern blueprint and the builder of the dome of the Florence Cathedral used the camera obscura to copy architectural details from the classical ruins that became the basis of his works.  

It was during this period that the architects of the Renaissance period bought architectural drawings as we know it today, wherein they accurately reproduced the detail of a structure using the tools of scale and perspective which was at that time was a highly intensive and specialized job done by skilled and dedicated draftsmen. 

The Blueprint

Even today, people still refer to construction drawings as ‘blueprints’, but how did it get that name? These documents got their trademarked blue in 1842 when John Herschel discovered the cyanotype process.  Using this process, an architectural drawing was made on a semi-transparent paper and then weighed down on top of a sheet of paper or cloth that was coated with a photosensitive mixture of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate. During the final stages, the document was exposed to light. The exposed parts of the background of the drawing become blue, while the drawing lines blocked the coated paper from exposure and remained white 

It was not only the architects who benefited from this new and cheaper process, artists and scientists also used this new way to preserve the silhouette of leaves, ferns, and other botanical samples.

The 19th and 20th Century

This period saw the rise of a variety of chemical and mechanical process for reproducing architectural drawings. It’s during this time that the diazo process replaced the cyanotype ( where the blueprint was printed out of) as the dominant printing process for most of the 20th century. In this process, instead of a blue sheet with white lines, the diazo process produced a white print with blue lines that has come to be known as a white print. 

The AIC ( American Institute for Conservation) while conserving the New York Botanical Garden Library collection of drawings found 14 types of processes that basically summarizes the evolution of blueprints in the midcentury. These 14 types are as follows:• Aniline prints• Cyanotypes• Diazotypes• Electrostatic prints• Ferrogallic prints• Gel-lithographs• Hectographs, (handmade)• Pellet prints• Photostats• Sepia Prints• Silver halide prints• Stencil duplicating (mimeographs)• Spirit duplicating (hectographs, machine made)• Van Dyke prints


At the end of the 20th century saw the rise of Computer Aided Design ( CAD) Technology and large-format printing processes that made the reproduction of multiple accurate copies of the architect’s original design easier than ever. 

Computer Aided Design is the use of computer systems to help in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. The resulting design is either in 2D or 3D drawings of physical components. Some of the popular software packages that are widely used in CAD designs are Autocad, Catia and Solidworks to name a few.

In concurrent with CAD design, BIM ( Building Information Modelling) is slowly gaining ground in the construction industry. BIM is the management of the physical and functional information of a project. The output of this process is what is referred to as BIM which are digital files that show and describe every aspect of the project. BIM is more than 3d Modelling which involves width height and depth, it also expands to other dimensions such as time (4D),  cost (5D), and as-built operation (6D).

Drawing Management Systems and the Digitization of Blueprints

Although the construction industry is still largely paper-based, it is quickly changing with the introduction of cloud-based construction drawing management software like Procore where users can store and access construction plans online, as well as make markups in real time. Construction drawing and specification management platforms have features like automatic version control which saves valuable time of the project engineer’s time and resources.

Architects, engineers, and even field workers can greatly benefit from the digitization of construction plans in more ways than one. Here are some of the benefits that digitization can offer.• Convenient Retrieval. There’s one study that showed that employees spend a considerable amount of time looking for documents, a practice that can slow down a company’s productivity. Using computer-based document management software enables people to retrieve the needed documents whenever they are needed. • Markups Become A Breeze. Back in the days, construction plans were stored in a trailer, and every morning everybody involved comes to check if there were any changes that were made into the plans. The consolidation of the markups from collecting it from the field, to making it, having it approved and storing it is a labor and time intensive process. And, sometimes, costly mistakes occur when people work from an old set of plans. A good document management system allows team members to do markups and share them in real time ensuring that everybody who is involved in the project is working on the same drawing set.• Increased Document Security. Security is one of the top, if not the top priority of any company. Construction drawings can contain confidential data and in some cases proprietary designs that need to be protected. With the use of a role-based access system, a feature that’s standard in top drawing management systems, access to certain files can be restricted to certain users to make sure that it doesn’t get to the wrong hands. In addition to this, documents need to be also protected from fires, disasters and hardware failures by doing regular back up of the files. And also thyssenkrupp Materials services will help you to build the flawless project!  

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