Understanding Architectural Elevation Drawings: A Comprehensive Guide

Whether famously drawn on the back of a napkin or later combined into a set of formal project documents, architectural elevation drawings play a vital role in a building's design development, composition, and communication. In...

Whether famously drawn on the back of a napkin or later combined into a set of formal project documents, architectural elevation drawings play a vital role in a building's design development, composition, and communication. In this article, we will explore what elevation drawings are, why they are necessary, and how to create them for your own projects.

What is an Elevation Drawing?

Floor plans show spaces from above, section drawings provide a look inside through a section cut, and rendered perspectives show the building in three dimensions. But what about elevation drawings? An architectural elevation is a drawing of an interior or exterior vertical surface or plane that forms the skin of the building. It is drawn to scale, showing the exact size and proportions of the building's features.

Externally, elevations describe the vertical interface between the interior and exterior of a building. This includes the external facing walls and surfaces of each side of the building. Internally, elevations can be used to depict the vertical surfaces of rooms.

Elevations are typically drawn in relation to a floor plan. As the plan and design evolve, draft elevations are drawn or adapted several times to communicate the proposals' design development.

How to Identify and Interpret Elevation Drawings

Elevation drawings are often represented on plan views by elevation tags. These symbols have an arrow that points in the direction that the elevation is facing. There are two commonly used naming schemes for elevation views: one based on the side facing the street and the other based on compass directions.

When viewing an elevation drawing, it is important to remember that all objects appear along a single plane. This means there is no perspective effect, and all objects are shown at the same size and scale. To better understand the view, you can compare it to corresponding floor plans and perspectives, if available. Take note of any annotations indicating floor heights, levels, materials, and fixtures.

How to Create an Elevation Drawing

Building Elevation

  1. Prepare your reference drawings: Have detailed floor plans ready for easy reference.
  2. Project the lines: Line up the floor plan above the drawing space and create new lines aligned with the wall edges, window and door locations, and other prominent features to outline the facade.
  3. Determine heights: Determine the horizontal constraints, such as floor heights, ceiling heights, sill heights for windows, and door openings.
  4. Add the roof: Cap off the building enclosure with a roof, making sure to consider visibility in the elevation view.
  5. Refine the design: Make aesthetic adjustments to the design, such as roof pitch, overhangs, and more.
  6. Detail the drawing: Add trim, roof gutters and ridges, stone, siding, and cornices to provide a better understanding of the design.
  7. Annotate: Include important information such as dimensions, floor names, and text callouts.

Interior Elevation

  1. Sketch: Begin with a rough draft of the final output, capturing design intents.
  2. Prepare the walls: Draw the walls in the appropriate scale, considering length, ceiling height, and the location of doors, windows, and interior openings.
  3. Draw the primary elements: Draw the main elements of the space, such as wall cladding, counters, and cabinetry.
  4. Add furniture, fixtures, details: Include additional details to fill out the area, such as furniture, fixtures, and other accessories.
  5. Add labels and symbols: Label finishes, materials, and specific pieces of furniture or appliances. Use symbols for closets and cabinets.

Detail or Enlarged Elevation

  1. Isolate the objects: Focus on the objects you want to emphasize and determine what should be shown.
  2. Create a rough sketch: Plan out your drawing presentation, considering installation processes, inner mechanisms, or enclosed elements.
  3. Differentiate line types: Use different line types, such as continuous, dashed, dotted, hidden, and phantom lines, to improve the legibility of the drawing.
  4. Hatch patterns: Use hatch patterns to represent different materials, such as metal, concrete, wood, or stone, and to show areas below ground.
  5. Add dimensions and labels: Include dimensions and text to thoroughly explain the design intents.

How to Enhance Elevation Drawings

To improve your elevation drawings, consider the following:

  • Line-weights: Vary the thickness of lines to distinguish major architectural elements from minor details.
  • Color: Use color to break up the monotony of black and white lines and distinguish different elements.
  • Textures: Apply textures to elements such as wood, bricks, stone, and shingles to add realism.
  • Light & shadow: Add light and shadows to convey depth and contrast on a facade.
  • Vegetation: Include trees, plants, and landscaping to soften the building mass and add a natural element.
  • People and vehicles: Add cutouts of life in motion to illustrate scale, usage, and human context.
  • Surrounding context: Frame the building with its surrounding context to provide a sense of location and association.
  • Templates: Create reusable templates to save time and maintain a consistent visual style.
  • Visual hierarchy: Use size, color, line weight, and white space to prioritize elements in your drawing.
  • Layers: Organize your drawing using layers to control different visual planes and elements.
  • Foreground, Middle Ground, Background: Establish depth in your elevation drawings by separating the foreground, middle ground, and background.
  • Summary: Elevations are essential for architectural drawings, interior designs, and details. Presenting elevation drawings in a visually pleasing and informative way is a crucial part of the design process.

Creating well-executed elevation drawings can enhance communication, bridge the gap between realism and technicality, and provide a comprehensive understanding of the design. By implementing the tips and techniques mentioned above, you can elevate your elevation drawings to new heights.