Draftsman Vs. Architect

By: David Balber of Balber Architects, Inc.
Many times over the years I’ve had conversations with people that aren’t quite sure what differentiates a draftsman from an architect. I will attempt
to clear this up:
In the most basic terms, a draftsman works under an architect. Many architects and architectural firms have one (at least) registered/licensed architect (usually referred to as the “principal” or the “managing principal” of the firm) and then they oversee either one or a series of draftsmen. A draftsman by law cannot sign and seal drawings for permit; thus the draftsman needs the architect. This is probably the biggest thing that separates a draftsman from an architect. The fact that an architect can sign and seal drawings gives the architect incredible power from a legal standpoint. Becoming an architect is a much more rigorous endeavor than becoming a draftsman. To learn more about the process of becoming an architect please click here.
A lot of architects start off as draftsmen to test the waters and see if architecture is the right field for them. When I was in high school I had a drafting class…that I hated. Passionately. Now keep in mind, this is coming from someone that always wanted to become an architect! The reason I hated this class was because when I was in high school…many…many years ago, everything was done by hand. This was the time of t-squares, triangles, mechanical pencils, velum, etc. It was a time of blueprints and blue print machines that made the entire office smell of ammonia (click here to learn about blueprints). This is now a bygone era. Nowadays everything is done on the computer. Anyway back to my story – so the reason I hated the class so much is because I was interested in the end result of being an architect, which was designing buildings and having them built. The drafting class focused on how straight our linework was. How constant we could draw a line. How perfect our lettering was. Honestly I could care less about any of that. To this day I tell people that as much as I love architecture and being an architect, if we had to work by hand I would still be an architect…but a very unhappy one. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has their thing. Some people really get into drawing perfect block letters…it just has never been my cup of tea.
Another thing that was taught in drafting class was perspective. Now perspective is a very cool thing. In life we see things in 3-point perspective. What the heck does that mean you ask? Well it means that when we look at anything, say a building…the top and bottom of the left side of the building will actually appear to be slanted towards one point to the left, vice versa on the right side of the building, and then all of the vertical lines of the building will appear slightly angled to a point upward towards the heavens. A great example of perspective would be on a straight highway…the streat, although it is perfectly straight, appears to converge to a point in the distance. This is an example of 1-point perspective…but that is just because it is flat. I was drawing in perspective from a young age as I taught myself via drawing books. I used to look at a drawing done by one of my classmates and then look at what they were trying to draw and figured out that there’s didn’t look like the real thing because their vertical and horizontal lines were truly vertical and horizontal…which doesn’t happen when we process the world. Now as much I liked and still do like and appreciate perspective, once again I didn’t like it in drafting class. The reason is because they taught the “real” way to draw perspective. This means that when you draw in perspective you can either do it in an artsy way (which I like) or an exact way…which is obnoxious to me. I don’t like this method because it is too technical and takes the humanity out of a drawing.
As beautiful as perspective drawings are, they are also a thing of the past thanks to the computer. Nowadays for my project instead of taking three hours to draw one image of a building, I create a computer model. Why you ask? Well because the computer model, once it is done, will allow me to create as many perfect perspectives as I want with a simple click of the mouse. What I mean by “perfect” is that the perspectives are to scale since my models are to scale to the fraction of an inch. For more reading on my love for computer models click here.
The computer makes everything so much more efficient. Does the computer take away some of the romance of the handwritten blue prints? Some people think so…I don’t. I never did. I always saw drafting as a means to an end which is a completed, constructed building. Maybe 1/1000 people would actually care to look at a drawing of a building. These are the people that have framed blueprints on their wall (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Most people just like to see the real thing = building. Yes there are people that collect old architectural drawings…but there are also people that collect oil cans (once again…not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Needless to say I am not one of those collectors. I guess it is analogous to someone being a musician (such as myself) compared to someone that simply collects guitars. I have several guitars but I look at them more as tools. Granted they are extraordinarily beautiful tools, but tools nonetheless. Each of my guitars has its own specialty. The collector looks at guitars simply for their aesthetic value. Do I cherish guitars the same way collectors do? I don’t know…maybe? I suppose I do but it is a deeper appreciation for me because I not only appreciate the physical beauty of the instrument, but the instrument as a means of creating music. In the end the guitar is still a tool to me because it is just something I need to write or play a song. When musicians die I think it is safe to say people will be more interested in the music they leave behind as opposed to their actual instruments. Having said that I think Jimi Hendrix’s guitar went for $2,000,000!
For me personally as an architect I suppose I still cherish my ridiculously expensive compass from graduate school (think I paid $40 for it…most compasses are under a dollar!). I love it because it is mechanical and perfectly made and it just rocks. But other than that I’m not really sentimental about any tool of my trade. My computer is just a computer. My desk is just a desk. Though I must say my task chair is glorious…
When I was a kid I used to think of all the career options and the tools of each trade. I always loved that architects had t-squares and compasses. I also loved that as I grew older and started meeting architects, I would notice that when they had a pen or pencil in their hand I felt as though they could do something almost magical with that pencil or pen that “normal” people couldn’t do. I do still feel that way but it has to do more with how they/we can take an everyday writing utensil and actually design a building with it, as opposed to how neatly they can write their block letters.
Draftsmen don’t only work for architects; they work for engineers too. Draftsmen are the guys/gals that are known for their attention to detail more so than their design abilities. This is another very big difference between an architect and a draftsman. Architects are known to not only have superior attention to detail, but to also have great design prowess. It is the architect’s vision that is relayed to the draftsman to detail for the contractors. Some architects, like me, do all the drafting as well as the design. If you’ve read any of my other blogs or have talked to any of my former or present clients, then you probably got the idea that I am a pretty hands-on kinda guy…or a control freak depending on who you ask.
When you go to an architecture firm for your next project, be sure to ask who will be handling your project. It is important to know that you will be working with the architect from start to finish and not someone else like the draftsmen. The reason this is important is because a lot of firms portray the project as though you will be working with the owner of the company from start to finish, while in most cases you will meet the principal architect once or twice, and then you will be dealing with the draftsman on a daily basis. Most companies operate this way and good for them. I’m not saying one way is better than another I am just saying that in my humble opinion, I feel that a project is always more holistic if there is one mind making every design decision throughout the project. Back to my music analogy, I always feel that a song is much more heartfelt if it is sung/played by the songwriter as opposed to having one person write the song and another person play/perform/sing it. That always seemed weird to me. For more on this topic click here.
Now I know there are going to be draftsmen that read this blog that are going to think I feel as though I am above draftsmen. That simply isn’t the case…it is just that I know all of the hoops that I have had to jump through to get where I am as an architect and have no problem shamelessly promoting myself! 🙂