An Architect Tells Us How to Read Floor Plans
Understanding floor plans is a must when building or doing an A&A. Learn how to in the first of our two-part guide
Here’s what you need to know.
Start by understanding what each drawing is trying to communicate. The drawings towards the front of the set such as the plans, site plan, elevations and sections, will give you a holistic view of the building, the elements within it and where they are located. The drawings towards the end of the set are generally detail-oriented, highlighting individual rooms and any particular construction methods within the building.
When in doubt, however, just ask. That’s what your architect is there for.
The site plan and roof plan describe the existing conditions on site and often reference a land survey. Some of the most important elements on site and floor plans are the title’s boundary location, building heights or levels, and the location of adjacent buildings and windows.
The site plan is one of the most important drawings for town planning; determining the proposed and existing buildings’ set-backs from the front, rear and sides; site coverage; private open space; overlooking diagrams; walls on boundaries and potential overshadowing of private, open space.
Your roof plan can look similar to your site plan, but it will be magnified to show how items such as roof plumbing are designed, as well as box gutter sizings and gutter types.
Some architects will also provide some bird’s-eye views of the existing site and surrounding conditions to try capture the entire site holistically.
Plans describe the locations and dimensions of structures and rooms to the builder. The plan typically shows what a slice through your building at 1-1.2 metres above the finished floor level looks like. The walls that have been sliced through will appear heavier than those that are not. Some important things to look for within your plans are the sizes of each room, the floor finishes (for example, timber boards, carpet or tile), structural set-out and general notes for the site including location of services.
Your architect should make sure that all the structures specified by other consultants, such as a structural engineer, fit within the wall thicknesses.
The plan, sections and elevations are what the builder will use to frame up the building. From there, they will use detailed drawings such as internal elevations to build up the interiors.
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Electrical plans show where each light, switch and power outlet is located and often how high they will be set.
The reflected ceiling plan (known as the RCP) shows the ceiling and locates lights and electrical items. Similar to a floor plan, the RCP illustrates a slice through your building at 1 to 1.2 metres above finished floor level. However, this time you are looking up, a bit like looking at a mirror on the floor.
The RCP often includes the dimensions and locations of downlights and high cupboard doors. This helps designers avoid conflicts when installing mechanical systems such as ducting for air-conditioning.
Elevations show your building’s exterior from the north, south, west and east (or close to). They often focus on the building’s height in relation to Natural Ground Level (NGL) and Finished Floor Level (FFL).
Most architects will also show neighbouring buildings to illustrate how the proposed building will fit in within the neighbourhood’s character.
The elevations will show your building’s cladding and roofing materials, heights, services, and window and door openings.
A section will take a slice through your building to expose the building structure. The section cut will show any structural beams, footings, insulation, roof profiles, interior openings and your floor-to-ceiling heights. Like elevations, sections will also show your building heights and relationship to surrounding buildings and NGL.
Construction details are often shown at scales such as 1:5, 1:10 or 1:20. These are magnified drawings, allowing the builder to read how certain items are to be put together and constructed. An example might be a stair detail, skylight, window reveal, door sill or countertop detail. These drawings are often ‘called out’ in the plan or sections, showing where the detail occurs. This call-out will then reference the page and detail number so the builder can locate it within the drawing set.
Think of the plans, sections and elevations as the holistic view of the project, and the details as showing the finer grain of how each element inside it is put together.
This will show each window and door in isolation. It will often show the opening size and any other dimensions required for the door or window to be manufactured.
Other details are also generally specified, along with the frame type, how the window or door is to be installed, architrave, hardware and glazing details.
Internal elevation drawings show each room’s floor plan in greater detail, as well as the corresponding walls. Extra details may include cabinetry dimensions and details such as materials, shadow lines, panels, door swings and handles. Fittings and fixtures such as taps, mixers, sinks and appliances will also be shown.
It’s best practice to have the actual items selected drawn into the cabinetry to ensure that they fit, rather than having any nasty surprises on site later. You may also have other items such as the tiling layout designed. Architects will often use codes to indicate material finishes such as ST-1 for stone type 1 or TV-1 for timber veneer type 1. This will then reference back to the general-finishes schedule, which should list all the material details such as sizes, colours, finish types and suppliers.
This could include a multitude of drawings. Some typically relate to development approval or building permits, such as shadow diagrams that illustrate the extent of shadows cast by the proposal and how they affect the neighbouring properties.
Overlooking diagrams describe the impact your proposal has on neighbouring properties, and the designs put in place to minimise the impact. Other common drawings include 3D views and illustrative diagrams.
Don’t miss Part 2 of this story coming soon
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