Design Phase 3: Construction Documents

We have discussed Schematic Design which answers the “what” and Design Development which answers the “How.” The next step is to communicate the information to the general contractor, the subcontractors, and the material suppliers to help facilitate the logistics of building the project. This communication comes in all forms with a lot of information to convey. Let’s break down the different forms of design communication and look at how they are created.

Construction Drawings

The term “plans” is often misused in the industry to mean all the construction drawings. Plans are actually a horizontal section cut typically viewing the building from above. Examples of plans include floorplans, roof plans, reflected ceiling plans, and more. Other drawings in the construction set are meant to view the building vertically. This includes elevations, building sections, wall sections, and many other details. There are a large number of different drawing types from many different trades.

Specifications and Schedules

The drawings are not the only part of the communication. Construction drawings are an important component to communicate the design in mostly graphic form. However, the drawings cannot convey all the information no matter their level of detail. For information related to installation, storage, model numbers, paint color, and more you need specifications and schedules. Specifications, in many cases, take just as long to produce as the drawing sets. Many large projects have specification books featuring hundreds of pages of specifications covering anything from concrete admixtures to door handle selections.

One of the more difficult responsibilities of your design team is to coordinate the specifications with the drawings to prevent contradictions between the two documents. This results in a detailed, single point of reference for the contractors to build the project.

Navigating the Drawings

The number of drawings needed to complete a project can be remarkable. It’s not uncommon to see drawings sets containing hundreds of pages of information. From civil engineering to interior design there is a lot to cover and a lot to organize. As the owner, it’s important to know how to navigate the information.

Page Numbers

Often you will find page numbers that have a letter followed by a series of numbers. The differing letters identify the design trade, while the first number describes the sheet/drawing type and the last numbers are sequences of that drawing type.

For example

Sheet A-1.2.3

is “A” for Architectural Drawing “1” for Plan Type Drawing “2” for Floor Plan and “3” for the third level

The letter designations also include:

G=General drawings convey general information related to the entire building and design trades. Expect to find drawings related to zoning, codes, contract procedures, and more. These are typically produced by everyone on the design team.

C= Civil drawings convey information related to site grading, water drainage, parking, and more. These are typically produced by the civil engineer.

L=Landscape drawings typically include landscape design, plantings, hardscapes, etc. These are typically produced by a landscape architect.

S=Structural drawings include framing plans, foundation drawings, and structural details. These are typically produced by the structural engineer.

A=Architectural drawings communicate the overall design, form, egress, layout, and exterior finish. These are typically produced by the architect.

I=Interior drawings describe the interior details and finish. Cabinetry selection, appliances, floor finish, interior elevations, and more. These are typically produced by the interior designer.

F= Fire Protection drawings show sprinkler systems, assembly ratings, and alarm systems. These are typically produced by the architect and/or the fire protection consultants.

P= Plumbing drawings include supply and drain design and include riser diagrams, plans, and details related to the plumbing system. These are typically produced by the MEP Engineers (Mechanical Electrical, and Plumbing).

M=Mechanical drawings communicate ductwork, air handlers, condensing units, and all things mechanical to make the building comfortable. These are typically produced by the MEP Engineers.

E=Electrical drawings show switches, lighting, power plans, meter/panel organization, and more. These are typically produced by the MEP Engineers.

T=Telecommunication drawings describe the layout of internet, phone, speakers, and all things low voltage. These are typically produced by the telecommunications consultant/supplier.

Z=Shop drawings are highly detailed drawings created by suppliers and manufacturers to assist the construction of specific elements. For example, window manufactures will create shop drawings for the factory to build custom windows specific to the project.


The next designation and the first number is known as the sheet type designations. They are organized as follows:

0=General, symbols, and legends



3=Building Sections

4=Wall Sections



7=User Defined

8=User Defined

9=3D views

Creating the Documents

The construction drawings actually start during the design development phase. As the design evolves, more detail is added and coordinated with other components. As layers of information are considered, drawings are produced and used to understand the different design options. As the drawings get more specific they also become more relevant to the final communication. It’s not uncommon to see a draft construction document set as a deliverable at the end of design development.

As we discussed in other posts, the architect coordinates the design team and subcontracts out the other design professionals to keep all the information more organized and to help avoid design conflicts. Once design development decisions are all made, the design team focuses their attention on creating all the documents needed to communicate the design information.

Changes During Construction Documents

It’s inevitable that adjustments will need to be made, even during construction documentation. At this point, the goal is to minimize the changes as much as possible. With so many layers of information, a large change can create a domino effect of other changes, easily resulting in wasted resources. Luckily, the design professionals are experts at making changes and thinking about every impact.

What’s next?

The bidding phase is next. We are here to help you find a good building team that can build your project efficiently and for a reasonable price. Let’s find a good construction team to carry out the project and answer any substitution requests they may have.

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