The Revision of Drawings Over the Ages

Written by LetsBuild

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Bit of confusion here with “revision”, which better be cleared up before we go any further! As in today’s sense of changes to the design and drawings, my guess is that throughout history, the clients and their consultants have been the same as they are today; forever changing their minds just to make life complicated for us builders!

So that isn’t what we are going to be looking at! What we are having a look at is how the way, in which construction drawings were prepared and presented, has been revised!

Ancient drawings

Well, one old place I’ve been in was a large cave dwelling in France dated about 20,000 B.C. I didn’t see any architectural drawings, although there were plenty of pictures of bisons on the walls. However, my guess is that drawings were actually made. Bet they were scratched on the ground and argued about with plenty of grunting! Quite a big place for its day!

From the point of view of ancient building, a very interesting place is Minorca! It is covered in ancient places of habitation, ranging from pre-Stone Age to Bronze Age. The population was never very large, but people have lived there for millennia. My guess is that their drawings for anything big enough to need, one were also just scratched into the ground or a convenient rock.

Chinese and Egyptians

Moving forward a few thousand years, the big builders were the Chinese and the Egyptians. We do actually still have at least one Egyptian architectural drawing today! This is described as “mud covering a wooden backing” and the drawing engraved in the mud. Now the common conception we have of ancient Egyptian writing is that it was done on “clay tablets”. Perhaps “mud and wood” is just another description for them! This drawing, incidentally, dates from about 2,000 B.C.

How the Chinese did their drawings during this era, is a bit of a mystery. During the period 1,500 – 1,000 B.C. they used to write on turtle shells and animal bones! To the best of my knowledge, despite this being done so records were preserved, no drawings have been found. However the Chinese invented both bamboo strips they wrote on, and also paper in about 1,000 B.C., so we’ll assume that from then on they did their drawings by hand, with a brush on paper!

The Ness of Brodgar

But let’s jump back to 3,000 B.C.! A recent discovery on the Isle of Orkney is of a Temple complex, the Ness of Brodgar, covering about 3 hectares! This was built by Neoliths and seems to have been about the first thing of consequence built in Britain! No idea where they came from, nor how many of them came to be living in such a remote place. All that was previously known was the stone circle. Sorry, but must admit, I’ve no idea how they did their drawings! There is too much vegetation there for them to have done it on the ground!

The Neolithic people had already been on Orkney for 1,000 years, by the time the Ness of Brodgar was built. Nice to know, though, that there was so much evolving civilisation in Britain at a time, we all thought only the Middle and Far East were developing!

The Middle Ages

Moving on a year or two, and we get to the Middle Ages. We do know how drawings were done then – Leonardo da Vinci was pretty good at it!  He probably did them free-hand, but most people would have used a ruler to get a straight line, then it was ink on paper. That system carried on for a few hundred years, which brings me to my younger days!

The instruments used to make drawings had evolved during the 19th . C. – compasses, dividers, setsquare, s-curves and even scale rulers. These, back in the day, were done on a big bit of paper on a drawing board. Once finished, they went through a complicated, slow process to be produced as “blue prints” for distribution, to everyone who needed a copy. My late father was actually a Marine Architect and I still have his drawing instruments!

Modern times

Things carried on like that for drawing production until 1982. The major development along the way was that the original, hand-made drawing, got photo-copied instead of being turned out all blue!

That year, 1982, saw the introduction of AutoCAD which, by 1985, was used world-wide! Drawings are now all done on computers or even smart phones! Hard copy drawings could be run off lag-tag on plotters; big printers which, for a modest £800, could be available on any construction site! Many companies didn’t bother to shell out the £800, which was a bit blinkered of them. When the drawings could simply be filed away on the computers, why waste time and space to file away the out-dated ones? Anyway, we all know what they look like!

There did seem to be a problem with the use of AutoCAD, from the point of view of those of us having to build to drawings, produced that way. Without people having to think hard about what they were drawing, we seemed to get far more problems in buildability! That required clarification and the issue of even more drawings!


The last couple of years is seeing the latest revision to the production of drawings. We are moving to BIM – Building Information Modelling. This is taking over globally and we will just have to wait and see how it works out. Being suspicious, cynical and just old-fashioned, I expect even more problems of buildability than we had with AutoCAD, and most likely a much, much slower uptake (even thought the Government thinks it can push it through quicker!).

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