Adding Legibility to Details

Adding Legibility to Details

Architecture DetailLast week I wrote about rethinking what elevations created in ArchiCAD could look like. Today I want to expand those ideas to details (and also plans, sections, etc.). In preparation for my talks at Architecture Boston Expo and EcoBuild in Washington, D.C., I revisited a detail I worked on many years ago. Here is the original:

In addition to focusing on the technical value of the detail, plenty of time was spent tweaking line weights, hatch patterns, text and arrow alignments, etc. It’s a pretty detail. And since all the graphic qualities are part of my template, I really didn’t spend much extra time making it enjoyable to look at. But what is the value of that beauty? Or more to the point, does that beauty add enough to the legibility of the detail? Could it go farther?

We’ve had VGA monitors since 1987

Architectural Detail

Here’s the same detail after I colorized it.

It’s not even worth asking the rhetorical question about which is more legible. Instead, let’s ask why we haven’t been doing our details in color for years and years? Adding color to details used to be prohibitively time consuming, expensive and complex. Printing costs were painful and before that blue print machines where monochromatic. But we no longer reproduce drawings using ammonia, and color printers are ubiquitous. Furthermore there are some other trends which support this shift to color documents (which I’ll talk about in Boston and Washington, D.C.).

Even CGA is better than Monochrome

Master Complex Profile

Til Breton’s Master Complex Profile again: notice all the color?

Of course the big questions are how to achieve rainbow colored details in ArchiCAD and how to do this in a way that further supports BIM. We have a clue to both answers in the post about Complex Profiles from early October 2012.

Each material type has pen numbers assigned to it. So all concrete has a designated foreground and background pen number. Same with wood, metal, insulation, etc. This logic of material type (not ArchiCAD element type) having corresponding pen numbers allows two things. The first, which we’ll talk about another time, is to change any fill pattern between empty, solid, and a specific vectorial hatch. The second is to switch between specific colors and black and white. Most of us have been using a variant of this trick since ArchiCAD 10: drafting in color, but having a printing Pen Set that is mostly black and white. It’s easy to make the mental leap to a Pen Set that allows you to produce quality black and white details, and also toggle on colors for increased legibility when necessary. This is not an either/or proposition. I think it’s important to develop your details to function in both color and black and white. There will always be

Pen Sets

Now here’s a snapshot of Til’s chart explaining one aspect of one part of his pen sets.

instances where things get copied down to black and white, and from an accessibility stand point, you want a color blind coworker or worker on site to still be able to access the information. With a smart template you can have both color and black and white.

Water, Wind, and Warmth

Jumping to color details might be a huge leap for you today. To do it well, it will take a large overhaul of your Pen Sets. Large enough that I have yet to tackle it for myself; my illustration involved an augmentation of my current template. So what are some baby steps? Air barriers, vapor barriers, and insulation are critical aspects of most, if not all building details. Consider adding color to those elements to start. Then you just have to add 3 or 4 new pens to your template. A black and white detail with blue lines for vapor barriers, red lines for air barriers, and yellow for insulation is immensely useful. I know of at least one local Minnesota firm using ArchiCAD that has been doing this for years. They are Passiv House Experts, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve tweaked their details to make this critical information extra legible.

Extra-dimensional BIM

In discussions of BIM, we all like to claim extra Ds. It’s not a 3D model, it’s 4D or a 5D or a 18D model. Here’s a graphic that sums it all up. I like to think of those extra dimensions in BIM like the extra dimensions postulated by String Theory. We readily see the traditional three dimensions. And the 4th isn’t too hard to access thanks to awesome add-ons like BIMx. But everything beyond that is wrapped up, compacted, and a little tricky to access. Even defining what those dimensions are isn’t straight forward. I think of each ‘dimension’ as another layer of data, another cross section of information in your BIM just waiting to be shared. Adding color to your details will increase legibility and bring out extra dimensions to your documentation.

Are you exploiting Pen Sets in ArchiCAD? Here’s a series of posts I wrote on Shoegnome almost two years ago talking about my theories and thoughts on Pen Sets. I need to write some more because my personal Pen Sets continue to evolve and those articles really just hint at a VERY powerful function within ArchiCAD.