Toxic Patterns in Architecture School That Need to Stop

This week is a bit of a different one. This blog post is the outcome of a drop-in audio event held over on our Discord channel. Similar to the recently popular app, Clubhouse, we were able to engage with members of the archi-community and talk about something close to everyone’s hearts – the architectural education system and toxic patterns we see often.

The following article has been edited to include the viewpoints and discussions from the audio event and where possible, we have highlighted and included the names of each speaker. The initial topic of discussion was ‘What is toxic behaviour?’ and ‘What kinds of toxic behaviours have you experienced at architecture school?’.

The participants had various experiences and backgrounds such as a Part 1 Architectural Assistant, a BArch student who is also working, an Architectural Apprentice and a Master’s student. We aimed to understand some of the commonalities and personal experiences from our distinct backgrounds and have an honest chat about how we think education is headed.

Thank you to Aimie Cheetham, Grant Morris, Varun Hariprakash and Deanna Seymour for their insights and time as well as our listeners present in the background.

Where does the cycle of toxicity originate from?

man covering face with both hands while sitting on bench

In some universities, we see how all-nighters and working incredibly late is just a common attitude to the point where some students feel as though it is a badge of honour or something to be proud about. Now, if you generally work better later at night and can manage your work routine well then it’s fine but if this is something you are being pressured to do by tutors or peers, it can result in poor mental health going forward.

The constant nagging feeling of not having done enough is something all architecture students can relate to. This mindset and work ethic then gets translated into practice where some larger firms also implement overtime and ridiculous hours ‘because that’s the way the industry is’. But realistically and surely, good standards of work can come from being well-rested and actually enjoying the work you are doing?

This could either come from the way tutors, course leaders and practice directors have been educated therefore continuing the toxic circle of this type of culture that starts off the moment we step foot into university. Or, it may be an internal, self-confidence issue that is a result of silent imitation where we feel as if we are not doing as enough as the person next to us.

Universities also try to implement a model to copy the culture of other, well-known universities like the Bartlett who have built up a reputation for incredible work and projects with the caveat of a huge amount of stress and ‘hard work’. Obviously, each student’s experience at university differs so there is no way of knowing whether this is the case across all schools. But idolising negative traits will only result in poor relationships with students.

There are some changes coming to architectural education, notably being more apprenticeships that allow students to train and get a taste of practice as well as Collaborative Practice courses and placement years in some universities. Hopefully, this can help graduates who are entering an already difficult market and although larger firms may seem like an obvious choice or goal, it is most often these very practices that promote an unhealthy work culture and are the culprits behind unpaid internships.

What is our time worth?

Architecture students have multiple things on their plate at one time alone and time-management or organisation ends up taking a back seat because if we aren’t working on our design project, we’re researching for our thesis or building a model or taking photographs – it’s a race of who can fit in the most in a term. Toxic, right?

Not only do we have to worry about managing all these things but there are external factors that we worry about too, financially and personally. Thinking about student debt or having a part-time job can make the university experience rather poor. By the end of my masters, I’ll have stress about paying off my debt and it stays in the back of my mind at all times. [Varun] It’s a common trope that architecture students only ever hang out with other architecture students – mainly because that’s who we spend all our time with!

But this issue of time-management is only heightened once we get into practice. There is a certain disconnect between the kind of work we do at university vs the ones we end up working on. THe starting salaries alone aren’t reflective of the long hours we put in or that we put in the equivalent amount of effort as an architect. But that is a discussion in itself. Something that we hope will change this attitude is the Open Letter by Future Architects Front to campaign for the end of unpaid work and to create a better dialogue between the next generation of architects and the governing bodies.

On the other hand, firms that invest in younger people whether they are apprenticeships or studying their Part 3 do understand your general workload and are sympathetic with what you can realistically achieve in practice. It seems as though younger practices are more flexible and are changing the way they work, giving priority to things outside of work. Hopefully, COVID can help people realise that you can work from home. [Aimie]

Competitive behaviour amongst peers

A competitive trait that often goes unnoticed is when you hear your friends say ‘I haven’t done anything at all this week’ and then go on to present in-depth research, a new prototype model and significant progress in their portfolio. This is eerily toxic. Maybe we all do it at some point, but it’s absolutely ridiculous that students end up being so cagey about their work or the kinds of resources they’ve used. Of course, this could be a result of not sharing your work with peers given the current circumstances where we have little to no contact with anyone apart from our tutors. Or it could even be an accidental or unintentional act from someone who may think their work is simply not good enough.

Perhaps this is the result of the lack of group working in some universities which is baffling, to say the least, because working in practice is all about teamwork and problem-solving with your peers. No one architect is solely responsible for their project so why is it that this way of working is not introduced to us at an earlier stage?

Unfortunately, we are also faced with some difficult areas to navigate such as with tutors. Particularly those who feel as if our projects are theirs and we aren’t able to have the final say because if we go against their recommendation we’d probably not be as popular as those who go with everything they tell us to do.

There is a dichotomy between finding your own style but I think your tutors push you in a certain direction. Struggling between finding the balance between what I want to do and what the tutors want to see. At the end of the day, the tutors are the ones marking it. [Grant] In some cases, there may also be silent discrimination or favouritism for international students who aren’t always able to build the same rapport and understanding as local ones due to language barriers creating a rather toxic environment.

Obviously a little bit of competition is great for all of us but these are communal learning environments. It has got to the point where studios don’t share tips or resources with other studios as they are pitted against each other. I even know of one guy who didn’t even tell his girlfriend of a resource (something like digimaps) because he wanted to keep it to himself. I believe education should be free and accessible to all, especially in the built environment. Knowledge is the way forward! I’ve definitely seen things differently at different universities and from bachelors to masters though. [Deanna Louise Seymour]


Although we have recognised these issues, there are many people out there who may feel that these are trivial and non-existent. But if we can call out toxic behaviour as it happens, start to pave our own way to becoming architects who are able to work together and design for the future, it’s better than nothing.

We obviously need to be working towards being more open and sharing the difficult aspects of the industry, keeping our mental health as the number one priority to creating a healthy life/work balance. This cycle of toxicity may be difficult to break but it can start with something as simple as saying no to all-nighters.


How to Make an Illustration Using ArchiCAD

There is a multitude of software to learn as an architecture student, graduate and professional. There’s no time like the present to build your skills and find a tool that works best for you. Although the usual software as Sketchup and AutoCAD, not to mention Revit as the professional standard, one software we don’t hear much of is ArchiCAD. This guest post is by Palash Trivedi who’s kindly shown us how to create an illustrative scene in ArchiCAD and post-produce it in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

❗ Note: I am not a pro in any of this software, I am sharing just what I have experienced while working in these. So, I may not be able to provide an in-depth review or analysis, but I have tried to explain what I know in the best possible manner.

What Is ArchiCAD and how did I come to use it?

ArchiCAD is a BIM Software of Graph iSOFT company made for Architects, to produce fast, accurate and complex architectural projects with ease. For those who aren’t aware of BIM, BIM means Building Information Module which basically treats your 3D models with real-time material properties and Information, unlike SketchUp which treats it just as an amalgamation of Surfaces and Fills. 

Plus, it has the basic CAD capabilities which can be used to draw in a 2D environment, but here the 3D model will be generated automatically with your 2D work or if you work in a 3D environment(Model Space) then your 2D works which contain the drawings will be created or will get updated automatically.

Do you prefer it over other modelling software like Sketchup, Revit, Rhino and if yes then why?

ArchiCAD vs SketchUp.

My preference is ArchiCAD 100%

SketchUp is easy to use, but so is ArchiCAD. ArchiCAD also contains a MORPH tool which simply works just as the SketchUp works viz. creating solids, push-pull, subtraction & intersection of solids. More than that, as I mentioned previously ArchiCAD works with materials and its information, so all your walls, slabs, roofs, beams etc. will be of actual materials like concrete, steel, bricks, stones etc. based on how you apply and use them in your project. Plus, you don’t have to use two different software such as AutoCAD for 2D work and Sketchup for 3D modelling. Both the process is done in ArchiCAD itself and they will be done simultaneously. 

Considering the OBJECTS, ArchiCAD 24 has included many new objects in its library, but if you want to use your own objects like some particular piece of furniture or doors or windows, then you can easily make them in ArchiCAD in a separate file and can use it anytime.

So, in the end, it depends on you on what to use, but if you want to spend more time in Designing instead of drafting and modelling, then I would strongly recommend you to use ArchiCAD.

ArchiCAD vs Revit

I will still go for ArchiCAD.  Here the comparison is not as contrasting as compared to SketchUp as both ArchiCAD and Revit are BIM software’s and both have their pros and cons when compared each other. 

Basic qualities

ArchiCAD is one of the oldest BIM or in other words one of the first BIM software’s which came into the AEC industry. Thus, they are more experienced in BIM and Revit which came very later. But in the past few years, Revit has become more famous and used thanks to its Parent company Autodesk which is more famous in the AEC industry than any other company. But it has some advantages also such as it has more plug-ins built-in than ArchiCAD and has a bigger Object library. But in the latest version of ArchiCAD, i.e. ArchiCAD 24, they have integrated the MEP plug-in which can do most of the things which a project needs. In addition to these, ArchiCAD also comes with the integration of LIVE SYNC with RHINO & GRASSHOPPER, hence creating parametric structures will also become more EFFICIENT in ArchiCAD rather than Revit which does have a plug-in called DYNAMO in it for parametric use but it crashes very often and is not that reliable.

Workflow & UI

When it comes to workflow and UX. ArchiCAD is again better than Revit as it is very easy to use as compared to Revit and has a more interesting user interface than Revit. ArchiCAD contains tools like PUSH & PULL, MAGIC WAND & MARQUEE, which can make it very easy and fast to edit and work on your project, but these tools or tools doing similar functions are missing in Revit, which makes it very tough to learn and work as well.

Integration with Structural Engineers and MEP Consultants

Revit has a slight edge here as it has a wide range of plug-ins that are built in it, and secondly due to the already established market of Autodesk due to which many Structural engineers are already working on Revit. But ArchiCAD 24 has been significantly improved in terms of interoperability and management, and it has a better IFC (Industry Foundation Class) export option through which any Structural or MEP consultant can easily work on it, also it as introduced a BIM cloud which can be used for the teamwork with different agencies in the same project. So, it’s just a matter of time for ArchiCAD to become better.


When it comes to Visualization, both are equal in terms of output which is definitely not as good as the rendering engines like Vray or Lumion. ArchiCAD comes with CINEMA 4D & has recently bought the rights for Twinmotion and UNREAL engine which can be a very good combination but it has just been started and there are many things to improve here. 

While Revit also has a decent rendering engine in itself but when compared to other Rendering Software they both fall way behind. But both of the software can be easily used with Lumion so it does not matter much on these aspects.


I have a personal preference for ArchiCAD over Revit due to the above-mentioned reasons, but for students, I would suggest learning both the software as both have their own place in the Industry and both will make your CV very strong.

ArchiCAD vs Rhino

These two cannot be compared directly as they both are used for very different and specific reasons and these can vary from person to person. Rhino is a parametric software that is used for making complex and organic forms while ArchiCAD is a BIM software that is specially made for Architects and can make some level of complex forms in it also. But as I mentioned earlier, ArchiCAD as a plug-in for Rhino & Grasshopper, so making parametric buildings is also very much possible in ArchiCAD also. So, using both of them together would be a much efficient way provided you want to make a parametric building, otherwise just for straight or curved surfaces, ArchiCAD is more than enough.

How to Create the Illustration

Step 1: Creating a View (ArchiCAD)

Arrange a Particular View in 3D model space which you wish to generate.

Step 2: Generating a 3D document (ArchiCAD)

Create a 3D Document of it by right-clicking on the 3D Documents panel on the right side and then select “NEW 3D DOCUMENT FROM 3D”.

It will just create a Separate file of that particular view which you can edit.

❗ Note: ArchiCAD also has different view modes in 3D model Space just like Sketchup,i.e, Hidden Lines, Shaded, Vectorial etc. So I have used a Simple View mode in the View space which shows the model in just black and white surfaces, but the model already has its material properties and surface finishes. So whenever you will make a 3D document, it will be shown in the actual surface finishes which you would be providing while making the model.

Step 3: Creating a Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Once you have generated the 3D document, you now have to create a WORKSHEET of that Document. So as shown in the image, without making any changes in the 3D document, just go to that 3D document and click on the worksheet tool in the tool’s panels on the left. 

Create the worksheet by dragging down your mouse from top left corner to bottom right corner around the area which you want to export.

It will show a small circle with the name of the worksheet written inside it on the right side as shown in image. Right click on that circle and then click “OPEN VIEW WITH CURRENT SETTINGS”

Now you have entered the Worksheet which will look like this:

Step 4; Editing the view in Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Now click on the “Suspend Groups” as shown in image. This will allow you to edit each line and surfaces individually. You can change the color, line type, linewidth of the lines and color, its transparency or any material hatch to the surfaces.

This is how you can edit the SURFACES; just click on the surface you want to edit and all the options will be visible in the toolbar.

This is how you can edit the LINES

STEP 5; Using Marquee tool (ArchiCAD)

After completing the editing of lines and surfaces, you have to export it as a PDF. 

In order to do that, select the MARQUEE TOOL from the tools panel from the left side as shown in the image. Select the whole area as shown.

STEP 6: Exporting as PDF (ArchiCAD)

Now select SAVE AS (Shift+Ctrl+S) and Select PDF. 

Click on use MARQUEE AREA and FIT TO PAGE as shown in the image and select the page size according to your choice, Finally click OK to save it and it will be exported as a PDF.

STEP 7; Editing the pdf (Illustrator)

Now open that PDF file in Illustrator and you can edit anything on It by using the Select Same tool by going to the Select Tab respectively as shown in the images. Try to use layers to keep everything separate as it will provide better control over the view for the editing.

STEP 8: Save as Ai file (Illustrator)

STEP 9: Importing the Ai file into Photoshop 

Create a NEW file in the Photoshop and Click on PLACE LINK Option from the Files menu and select the Ai file.

If you want the canvas to be of the same size, then first make the Photoshop panel of the same size as of the Ai file and when importing the Ai file, select on “CROP TO MEDIA BOX”, it will keep the size of the view the same.

STEP 10: Editing & Exporting the final work (Photoshop)

Now you can add various things like, humans, trees, vehicles birds etc. in the view by using either brush tool or clone stamp tool as shown in the images

After finishing, save the .psd file and Export it as a JPEG or PDF file according to your need.

The final output will look like this:

Hope this tutorial opened a different kind of workflow for you and if you ever want to experiment with ArchiCAD, this can be a great first exercise to try.


How to Create Iterative Massing Diagrams in Sketchup

Massing diagrams don’t need to be complicated or take a long time to put together. In this week’s post, guest author Ellie takes us through her workflow from thinking about the programme all the way down to finishing touches and exporting your diagrams. This is especially helpful if you want to showcase an iterative process in yoru design work and make it clear, simple and effective.

Establishing your Programme

Before you get started make sure you have established the programmes you wish to feature within your building, and begin to make connections between different programmes and understand which require more space and which need much less.

There are several ways to visually document your programme that will also help you understand the spatial qualities these programmes will require. Three different examples of these programme diagrams are:

  • Bubble Diagrams
  • Hierarchy diagrams
  • Spider Diagrams.

The Bubble diagram consists of drawing different sized bubbles for each programme depending on the amount of space required or importance, they are grouped and laid out like an abstract plan of the building and help you to understand which programmes may sit next to each other and which can be apart. The hierarchy diagram used in this tutorial is useful for grouping programmes into larger zones and then breaking down the smaller spaces required for each. The size of the ‘stack’ again depends on the amount of space it needs. The Spider diagram is very similar to a mindmap except for the linking lines between the programmes show which spaces need to be connected and can be physically linked in the building.

Using CAD Modelling Software as a Tool for Thinking

Once you have established your programme you can begin to think about massing and the form of your building and begin modelling your ideas in CAD software. The software we will use for this tutorial is Sketchup as it is geometry-based and lends well for modelling simple forms easily and quickly. The key to using CAD software for massing models is not being too precious about your models and using a few tools to extrude and distort forms and not being caught up in walls or floors. Working from home for the past year has proven that CAD modelling CAN be used as a thinking tool in the way that wood and foam models were used before and is equally useful and easy.

Learning the Basic Tools 

To get started creating massing models in Sketch up you need to learn a few main basic tools: The line tools, Shape tools, Push Pull tool and Scale tool. If you are not yet familiar with using SketchUp it may be useful to watch a tutorial such as this one from The Sketchup Essentials to get to grips with the software before you begin.

The way you model will depend on which is most important to you: specific form, or programme. In this tutorial, we will be following a specific form concept and then building the programme into it, but if you wish to build your form around the programmatic elements and the spaces they need then you may wish to start with the next step and work backwards. Massing models don’t have to fit a certain mould after all!

In our case, we will begin by drawing a basic shape using the shape and line tools, and then the push-pull tool to begin pulling the shape into three dimensions. You can then continue to divide and extrude the shape to form different masses.

Dividing the Form into Programme Zones

Once you have established some forms you like you can begin to play around and divide them into floors and programmatic zones. The way I did this is by selecting the top plane of the form [by double clicking] and using Ctrl + the move tool to drag a copy to the side.

Then using the line tools I divided the form into different areas and extruded them to fill single or double-storey heights. Before extruding each area I grouped them to prevent them from merging with other geometry so that they can be isolated and copied into other iterations. To do this simply double click the plane and right-click → Group.

Once in a group, you can edit these shapes by double-clicking into the group and pressing Esc to exit it after editing. I also pulled up the cores of my building along the blue axis to emphasise their location.

Exporting your Final Massing Models

Once you are happy with your massing models and their zoned copy you can begin to export the forms to turn into a comprehensive set of iterative diagrams. To do so, set up a scene on the Scenes tab. Check out this tutorial on setting up Scenes in Sketchup.

To set up the right isometric view make sure to select the Parallel Projection Camera from the Camera tab, and then highlight the model and click Iso on the camera angles tab.

You may want to draw a small line as a marker so that you can move each new iteration to the same point to ensure each screengrab is consistent. To get three different views for form, zones and circulations you need to export three different images. Firstly capture an isometric view of the entire form before dividing up, do so on the Hidden Line Style with Model Axes and Guides unchecked.

Then go to File > Export > 2D Graphic. When exporting your images choose PDF and be careful to name the images as it can be easy to mix up very similar iterations, it can be useful to also create a separate folder for the images to make them easier to locate.

Repeat these Exports with the zoned model in the Hidden Line style and also in the Wireframe style, all as PDFs, not JPEG.

Doing Post Production in Adobe IIllustrator 

Now it is time to produce a diagram from the models you have made. It is worth mentioning first if you are unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator it may be worth watching a tutorial series to getting started. Check out our 10 Essential Tools in Adobe Illustrator for some helpful tips.

First open your PDF Straight into Adobe using File > Open and selecting the chosen image. You can open all three styles of the mass and work on them in parallel. Firstly with the zoned form, select all the lines and go to Object > Live Paint > Make to begin adding colour. Live Paint is one of the best tools in Illustrator!

Now you can use the Live Paint tool to begin adding colour to each zone of the building. Once you have added colour you can select all the lines and change them to white should you want them to blend into the page colour. 

Now lock this layer and start a new one and use the Pen tool to draw a shadow extending from the cores to their origins and lower the opacity.

For the entire form models, repeat these steps adding one single chosen colour or create shadows using shades to show the entire form and again change the lines to white. 

For the Wireframe images:

  1. Thicken and change the colour of the lines that go around the perimeter of each zone to indicate where they are but allow view through the entire form.
  2. Then using the Pen tool draw a path into and around these zones depicting circulation in and through the space. In the diagram below I used four different lines to correspond with the four main zones.
  3. Then using the Polygon tool placing small triangles to indicate the direction of the route.

 Bringing the Image Together

Once you have edited each iteration and each of its layers you can begin to assemble a final set of diagrams.

  1. First open a New Illustrator Document in the page size you wish, I recommend A2 or A3, then Select and Group each iteration layer and Copy onto the new document.
  2. Using the rulers drag out some Grid lines for the rows and columns and align each layer on a specific point.
  3. Now using the Pen tool you can add lines to connect a path from each iteration and each type of diagram, using the Scissors tool to trim around the models. Repat for the other iterations and add text.
  4. Finally export your image as a JPEG making sure to Select Artboards and you are finished! Here is the final result below.


The Easiest Way to Add Textures in Photoshop

Adding textures in Photoshop doesn’t need to be a long, complicated process. In fact, it’s a simple case of image manipulation. In this tutorial we’ll be learning how to:

→ import and adjust images
→ using clipping masks and blending options
→ working in a non-destructive way

But what does adding textures to our images do?

Well, illustrations, sketches and post-produced styled images can produce an array of creative outcomes that a normal render wouldn’t be able to do. Textures allow us to provide a sense of materiality, show context and add a layer of interest within our images. Photoshop is a great tool for this because it can perfectly manipulate images meaning that you don’t even need the finished material to begin with – opening up a range of possibilities and chances for exploration.

In this tutorial, we’ll be using a white Sketchup model as the base for our image. You could apply new textures to simple line work, clay renders and even on top of existing photographs – there isn’t any limit! Textures are also great when creating simple digital collages; something that can convey key ideas of your project.

Before We Begin

First of all, let me start by saying if you are working on intricate files with a lot of detail you need to be saving constantly and keeping your layers in order! There have been a countless number of times I’ve kicked myself for merging layers or not naming them. If you need to remind yourself to do a little clean-up every now and then, set a ⏰reminder or alarm on your phone.

Working non-destructively means that you’re not erasing or permanently altering original images. If it does come down to doing so, make sure that you make a copy by hitting Ctrl + J and just hiding it. You never know what could go wrong or if you wanted to change something in the future, you don’t lose the original image.

Similarly, it can be a good idea to keep a 📂 library of resources or assets that you can use regularly. There are some amazing texture libraries and websites out there with free images to download – but you don’t necessarily need them all! I’d suggest starting off with your own or even downloading some from other architecture content creators. My good friend Oliver from Learn Upstairs has some awesome packs you can buy and keep forever.

How to Add Textures

💡 I’ve gone ahead and imported my Sketchup image into Photoshop. If you wanted to add base colours like I’ve done, you’re absolutely welcome to do so. If you want a texture only collage with no linework then you don’t need to add any colour and can use the Sketchup model as a base or guide.

  1. When selecting areas to fill with the Magic Wand Tool (W) you can achieve a seamless fill by expanding the selection by a few pixels so that it selects the area underneath the linework too. Just go to Select > Modify > Expand. Then, make sure that both layers are set to the Multiply blending mode and the linework layer is at the top.

2. Find the kind of texture image you’re looking for. Since this image is more of an illustration and not a realistic render, we can use a digitally-made texture. Alternatively, you could also draw in an element, watercolour or hatch and even use a photograph – it all depends on the style you’re going for.

I love using Architextures for all my collages and sketch images. The website has an easy interface and a whole bunch of options to adjust the image according to your liking. There are even pre-made textures for you to choose from. Here’s the brick texture I’ve downloaded:

3. After importing into Photoshop, you’ll obviously realise that at a reasonable scale, the texture won’t fit both walls. In this case, we need to Duplicate and scale the image accordingly. You can do this by clicking on the image with the Move Tool (V) and with Transform Controls on, click on one of the control points and drag. ❗ Try not to distort the scale of the image by either pressing Shift or making sure the link icon is clicked in the top toolbar.

Now you will need to duplicate the image (Copy / Paste works fine here) and create a large enough image that will cover one side of the wall. Then, select all the layers and Right Click > Merge Layers. Rename this to Brick Texture and create a hidden copy.

4. Now we can distort the image to fit the correct perspective. It’s a little tricky to see the wall and lines behind so you could either move the layer behind the linework or reduce the opacity for the time being.

Then, select the corner control point, Right Click and select Distort. Now you just need to drag the corners to roughly match one of the walls. Don’t worry about going over the edges either, just make sure to cover as much as you can. Now, we can repeat the same process for the other side of the wall.

5. Then, select both layers by holding down Shift and Right Click. Here you have to make sure that both texture layers are on top of our previous colour fill. Click ‘Create Clipping Mask’.

Et voilà! You’ve successfully added in your texture. The best thing about this is that you can always go back to adjust the scale, colour and position of the texture images. I personally like a rough, imperfect look to it.

6. Additional adjustments. In the image below, I’ve lowered the opacity slightly and created a new Layer Mask which I’ve then painted over with the Brush Tool (B) to make some areas appear even fainter. You could layer the image with more textures, paint in some weathered details and repeat the process for the other parts of the image.

You also don’t have to stick to the lines. Think about the surrounding white space and how that could be used to enhance the perspective. If you also wanted to turn off the linework altogether, that’s also an option. The great thing about using Photoshop and working non-destructively is that you can always go back and experiment.

For more awesome tutorials like this one, check out our 🌞 3D Sun Path Diagram or How to Make Maps articles too.


3D Sun Path Diagram

I know so many of you have been waiting for a 3D sun path diagram since our first tutorial on a regular, simple sun pathwhich by the way is to this date our most popular article ever! The difference between the two is simply a case of aesthetics. This diagram takes a little bit more effort but the key principles are the same.

A 🌞 Sun Path Diagram is one of the pages usually included in your Site Analysis section of your portfolio. After you are given a site, you go around and note things about the surroundings such as the opportunites and constraints, the adjacent buildings and think about what kinds of effects they will have on your site. Similarly, the orientation of the site is important to note if you’re keen on building a sustainable building or you want natural lighting to have a specific purpose in the programme.

Software tools you will need for this diagram include:

  • CAD Mapper or some kind of Ordnance Survey Map where you can download 3D building topography – if you can’t find any, I suggest you make it up based on site photos
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Sketchup is best for this but any 3D modelling software should do the same trick

The Steps

  1. Download a simple line map of your site. It would be very wise to keep in mind a certain road or even the postcode of your site if you can so that it is easy to access.

Set a false height in case there is no building data – some applications like Digimap have this for most UK areas but if you can’t find any, just go by site photographs and estimates.

  1. Open up the file in Sketchup and start playing with the model itself. You can get rid of the placement building that is on your site as we will be using a simple dashed red line to highlight this. Adjust the heights of the other buildings and figure out where your ‘boundary’ will be. It’s always best to have more buildings modelled than to have gaps later on. If your chosen location doesn’t have the data for building heights you might need to rely on your site knowledge and photographs or you could even look at documents in the area’s Planning Portal.
  1. Now you need to fix the scene. For a cooler look, I suggest increasing the field of depth. You can do this by going to Camera > Field of View and drag until you think it looks alright from a top, perspective view. Usually this is about 120 degrees.
  1. Exporting the file can take two roads. If you have access to Sketchup Pro, you can export the line PDF itself or you can take a simple screenshot of the scene and re-create it in Illustrator so that you have the freedom to play with line weights and colours.
  1. Now we will go into Illustrator and set up our page. From a workflow angle, I would suggest using Illustrator to create the diagram itself, refining it in Photoshop if you wanted to add in textures and other rasterised assets. Then, importing into your master InDesign file of your portfolio. That is where you can add your text and page headings.

** Sometimes the PDF can seem quite scary and completely black. In this instance you will need to select everything and reduce the stroke width to about 0.01. Then you can scale it up by holding the Shift key and dragging.

  1. Adding the details. You can follow the steps in our original sun path diagram tutorial to know how to add the 2D elements. Now we can begin Live Painting. Select everything (Ctrl + A) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Check to see that you’re able to select most of the buildings individually by using the Live Paint Bucket Tool.

At this point, if you wanted to also paint the road or the edges of the map, you might want to draw in the lines and add it to the live paint selection. You can now begin painting. I usually choose a muted palette and differentiate between adjacent buildings, noteworthy buildings (like train stations or museums) and the others by doing gradients of grey. Don’t forget to expand the Live Paint when you’re done!

  1. Keeping the site as your centre point, draw a circle on top and select everything then Right Click and choose Make Clipping Mask. If you wanted to add in shadows, you can export it as a separate .png image and mask it out in the same way. Usually you would need to resize and adjust according to your current scale.

Final Notes

For the buildings coming out of the circle boundary, you might want to trace them on a separate layer and put them on top of your clipped image. It’s always nice to stroke the entire silhouette with a thicker line to make everything look a bit more cohesive.

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could include screenshots of actual shadow analysis using the shadows tool in Sketchup and making sure the location, date and timings are correct. Most of the other steps are in the previous tutorial as well so be sure to check those out.

Let me know if this tutorial was helpful in the comments below or find us on Instagram!

Beginner’s Guide to Model Making

Beginner’s Guide to Model Making

Concept model for the Sir John Soane’s Institute of the
Picturesque (3rd year’s project).
Materials: White thin card paper, PVA
All details cut by laser cut.

There have been a lot of discussions going on in terms of architectural drawing as a primarily media for architectural education. While model making seems undertaught in architectural education, it is a brilliant skill to have for your further career in architecture. Model making is one of the most effective ways to present the proposal in competition layout and is used heavily to ‘win over’ the client. As I have been working in model making previously, I would like to share some knowledge and some tips to boost your skill in model making.

Where to start?

Model making can be intimidating to a lot of students who prefer to work through drawing or 3D modelling software. It can take a lot of time and materials do cost money. I like to remember the saying, ‘think seven times before you cut’, which is one of the good principles to set your mind to in model making. 

Don’t try to fit all in one.

Similar to architectural drawing, models also serve different purposes. It can be a concept model to convey your idea, it can be a technical model, it can be a proposal model for a competition etc. It is important to understand what purpose your model will serve before you start making it. Don’t try to fit the massing model within a final proposal model.

Where to begin?

Concept model for the Royal Doulton Pottery centre.
Inspired by the geometry of Art Deco. (2nd year’s
Materials: Gray carboard, tracing paper, PVA glue.
All details cut by hand.

When you have decided what your model is for, test your idea in a sketch. I prefer to use gray cardboard for this exercise. The reason you should make test models is similar to drawing – before you make the actual model, it is important to consider if it will work. There is nothing more disappointing than starting a final model and running into unsolved issues. For instance, material thickness, joinery of the materials or change in design. As I previously mentioned, materials cost a lot of money and by making sketch models from cheap materials, it can prevent you from unnecessary expenses in architecture school.

Another reason why it is important to test ideas in sketch models is because it is a good medium to create conversation about your design. It also helps the staff of the university’s workshop to guide you if you are in doubt.


Do not underestimate the skill of constructing a model. Working in professional model making practice I have understood that model making is essentially constructing your proposal. I can agree that those students who tried to make their model for the first time without testing the idea first usually fail in this attempt as the construction part of the model was not thought through. Like building construction, you need to find the technique as well as the style of model that suits your proposal the most.

It also does not necessarily mean that you should start with the foundation. There are occasions when it is preferred to start building a model ‘inside – out’ starting with the most detailed part and moving towards peripheral details. Thisway you ensure that you can construct the parts that will be much more difficult to make after smaller parts are done. 

Come up with a good plan

Make a good, realistic plan for your model and leave some spare time daily. Constructing a model requires a lot of concentration and steady hands. Also, it is easier to make less mistakes when you are not rushing the process. Another reason to leave spare time and set realistic targets is inevitable mistakes that happen even to professional model makers. It is also less hard on your mental health if you have extra time to fix these mistakes.

How to choose the right materials? It is important to understand what materials would be suitable to your final model as well as the qualities of those materials and what you can do with it or represent.

For instance, if you would like to use concrete mix for your proposal model, you should research the ratio of mix to make sure it is structurally sound for your model. It also will need reinforcement bars as elasticity for concrete is very limited. 

Be resourceful with your materials! Being resourceful in terms of materials is very important. It becomes very important if you are assigned to make a model in your career path. If you are using laser-cut technology, which most architecture students do (to some extent), try to place your files (if not using full sheet) in a way that you can re-use the material. Talking from personal experience, it is upsetting to see students cut one small detail in the middle of a material sheet. It makes it much harder to arrange new details on the sheet if a student decides to re-use the material. 

This does not apply only to materials that students use for laser cut parts. Being resourceful of the materials will become very important if you will be assigned to make a model in your practice. 

Using technology in model making. It is common to use different technologies to speed up the process of model making. It is widely used in professional model making practices as well. Skill to know how to use this technology will become quite an important asset in your CV. Before using laser cutting machines, 3D printers or CNC, make sure you have enough knowledge in theory. Also it is a good thing to discuss your intended use of technology with workshop staff or manager. It will help you to understand the right way to model your details in software as well as what kind of 3D printing would be the most suitable to your intended outcome.

Technical model for the Royal Doulton Pottery Centre. (2nd
year’s project)
Used materials: MDF, Perspex, stainles steel tubes, brass rods,
spray paint.
All model made out of re-used MDF found University’s

Make your files ready for the workshop staff! And double check them if they are in the correct scale beforehand.If you are using the University’s workshop, make sure your files are ready if you are going to use some type of technology in your model making process. There is nothing more frustrating for workshop staff than students who come unprepared or may not have a plan or any create the model that is intended. 

For laser cut – make sure your file is “clean” – make sure there are no double lines, lines are not overlapping, file is the right scale.

Material thicknesses and tolerances. Model making and modelling your proposal in 3D software are two very different things. Even if you have modelled a ‘perfect’ 3D model it might not fit together that easily when making it. It is better to test it beforehand as different machinery is set differently as well as different material tolerances can lead you to not so ‘perfect’ outcome as you see on your screen.

Joinery and adhesion methods. One of the most important aspects of constructing a model is to work out how materials will be joined. There are different ways of the joinery and adhesion methods. 

  • MDF + MDF = Gorilla glue/ super glue
  • MDF + Perspex = super glue
  • Plywood + Plywood = PVA/ Gorilla glue
  • Plywood + MDF = PVA/ Gorilla glue
  • Plywood + Perspex – super glue
  • Perspex + Perspex = plastic weld

Thank you to Elina for giving us some awesome tips on creating amazing models. We hope current and future students can benefit from some of this insight. If you have any questions or have made models using these tips, be sure to let us know over on Instagram.

How to Make the Easiest Architectural Collage

How to Make the Easiest Architectural Collage

What is an architectural collage?

An architectural collage is a no-render method of creating an image that conveys your ideas. The best thing about collages is that they are often much easier to do than final, detailed renders and illustrations and can be done in the space of a few hours (provided you have the work thought out beforehand). These can be as abstract or as detailed as you want which means they are great for when you’re in the middle stages of a project and just want to experiment with the ideas you have. Most firms are also turning to these kinds of images for ease and better understanding. A render can take hours to make and actually render, plus post-production will increase the time it takes for you to finish just one.

Essentially, it’s a bunch of shapes, images and textures carefully put together to create a seemingly coherent collage that conveys ideas of space, materiality and much more. There’s no real method to creating a collage since everyone will have a different approach, method, and style. We would suggest for you to have a look at existing collages out there like on our Pinterest board. There is so much inspiration out there and it doesn’t even need to be a collage. Look to Architectural Digest or other magazines that have stunning images. Usually you can get a sense of the composition, materials and lighting this way.

So obviously creating a collage is great for time constraints but also informal crits or presentations where you don’t want to keep rendering an image to show you tutors every week. To get your ideas across it can sometimes be better to do so in a minimal way. There’s also an increasing number of tutorials online on YouTube and other course websites. But we truly believe, once you practice a couple of times, it’s only a matter of building on the skills you already have. Another great thing about collages is that with the right resources and preparation you can get creating in a matter of minutes.

Prep / Things you need

In terms of the way to go about making a collage, you could absolutely do one by hand (usually this is done during the start of a project to get ideas flowing) but this could take some time. We like using Adobe Photoshop for this. If you’re not familiar, check out our ‘Getting Started’ series. You could also use Adobe Illustrator if you’re going for a very simple and graphical look but if you wanted to add textures and shadows, you will end up in Photoshop eventually so you might as well use that in the first place.

If you have no idea where to start, a good thing to do is to find collages out there that appeal to you. They might have the same kind of colour palette, use of textures or an interesting composition. Check out help-me-draw on Tumblr who explains composition techniques in much more detail. In this case, and for more detailed drawings, composition is quite important. Looking at photography tutorials online might help since a lot of the preparation beforehand includes composition and lighting.

After a few goes, you will see a major difference in your images and how a little bit of extra space can make an image look completely different. Next, you can come up with a quick sketch of what you want your collage to look like. Remember that this needs to be your work, relating to a brief or set of key drivers. Think about what you want the image to convey to the person looking at it and why it encompasses an element of your design.

If this is your first time practicing, find and use a photograph with bold features as a starting point. Try and recreate it as a collage but use elements that suit you or ones you might want to use in your own drawings later on. After some practice, you’ll find it much easier to come up with scenes on your own. As well as having a reference image, you may need to consider some other components that will accompany the architecture. Textures, furniture and even people can be sourced online. In the long run, if you want to have details that make sense and for your accessories to fit your drawing, you may want to model them first or create your own which is great.

But realistically you can’t do that for every single sketch, collage or render which is why people usually turn to pre-made packs that you can download and use. A great example is our own Indoor Plant Pack that has 100 cut out plant images that are ready to add into your drawings. With a bit of image manipulation in Photoshop, you can edit the sizes, perspective and even colours to suit your collage. There are also some great free texture packs that you can find online, but even a good high-quality image of a surface can work well.

Here are some we love:

Lost and Taken


We would also suggest you have a folder of the stock images or textures you use because they will come in handy over the years. You could sort these into folders and create your own organisation method. Then you can add them in whenever so you’re not always creating the same ones over and over. Remember, being organised is key when it comes to working efficiently. Really, there’s not a lot you need to get going. A collage is all about experimenting and coming up with something that has enough to give you more ideas going forward. If your first try doesn’t work, try a different combination, or just go crazy with it. Sometimes, the weirdest of things you might come up with on the fly can become the one thing your tutors end up loving.

Another key component you may or may not need is a 3D model of your design. There is no specific modelling software needed, use what you know and are comfortable with. In this case, Sketchup Pro / Rhino work great because you can export lines and use them as a base for your collage. But you don’t even need a 3D model. If this collage is about exploring ideas in the early stages, you probably won’t even have one and so the alternative might be to use a sketch or compiled sketches to understand the scene. If you’ve got a complicated scene, you could simply export the rough baseline of your building and sketch on top and scan it in.

The Process

Once you have imported your sketch, line drawing or reference image, set it on a white background and either lower the Opacity or use the Multiply blending mode. Don’t forget to lock the layer if it is an image so that you don’t accidentally select it. Now you’re ready to add in elements and start rendering the collage. Start with the actual architecture, think about what kind of materiality you want to showcase as well as the overall design. At this stage, don’t worry too much about colours or extra elements like furniture – those are simply accessories to your design. You can do this by drawing out shapes using the Pen Tool (P) or the Wand Tool (P) and fill it in. If you’re going off a sketch with no real line work, try and map out the different areas in transparent coloured layers which you can then add texture on top of and mask.

You can also edit photographs; add in models you’ve made and use parts of reference images since this is a collage of different works. Think about a main driver for this collage and stick to it. Every now and then, step back (take a break) and think about whether it is conveying that message or not. This is really the time to experiment with different textures, perspectives and basically the way in which certain components work together. Ideally, you should have a set composition, but if you’re not happy with it and need to make your canvas bigger or smaller, use the Crop (C) tool to adjust your artboard.

Make sure that as you add more elements, you’re constantly editing layer names and sorting into groups. It’ll make the way you work much more efficient if you try and stay organised. Remember to also work in a non-destructive way. This basically means that you don’t directly edit an image or paint on top of it in the same layer, thus destroying the original image. Similar to how you would separate out your line layer and your colour layer. Later on, if you make a mistake or decide to change things completely, you don’t have to start from the beginning, and it will allow you to experiment more.

Then, when you have all your elements together, you can start thinking about adding textures to certain areas or putting in detail with the Brush (B) tool. It’s completely up to you how detailed you want to make this. If you’re adding in realistic elements that you’re editing out and pasting in, it will be a good idea to transform the image to suit the perspective and scale. You don’t necessarily need to worry about colours yet. Sometimes, if there are details in the background that won’t be immediately visible to the viewer, you could paint these in yourself and add textures, highlights, and shadows. This can either save you the time of trying to find it online and editing it or take you longer if you decide to be extra detailed about it.

Try and remember that this is a collage and not a finally perspective illustration or render. The whole point of this is to get across ideas so if you make little mistakes to begin with it will only help you later on when you try tackle the big drawings. If your collage is specifically about creating the atmosphere of the space then think about extra details like sun-rays, fog, smoke to add a bit of liveliness to the image. Adding in people always helps too.

Usually adding in people is done towards the end to add life and show how the design will interact with people. If the main focus of your design involves a person doing an action then you might want to think about this much earlier on. There is no rule on what kind of materials, textures, or people you want to use. Think about the context of the drawing. For example, if your collage shows a nursery, you will obviously want to include children and think about soft, light colours.

Lastly, a good idea might be to edit the image as a whole. We like colour grading – which means adding a sort of filter on top so that the collage feels a lot more cohesive and the colours merge well together. This can be done really easily, and we suggest you watch this tutorial by PixImperfect (all of the tutorials on that channel are brilliant!).

Final thoughts

Inspiring images can be a very powerful tool when it comes to creating collages. Often, we don’t know where to start and how explorative to be but if you have a reference image or just something that you think you would like to try and emulate, it will give you a direction. We would definitely encourage students of all years to give collaging a go or even build upon previous projects in this way. If you’re regularly creating and practicing it will set some key habits that can be useful later on in your projects. For first and second years who might be a bit intimidated by large-scale, detailed drawings and illustrations, think of collage as a stepping stone and once you’ve accomplished one, there will be no stopping you.

We’d love to know your favourite collages so be sure to send them in to our Instagram and we might just feature your work! 

How to Add Colour to a Line Drawing in Adobe Illustrator

How to Add Colour to a Line Drawing in Adobe Illustrator

Types of Architectural Images

We’ve all seen realistic renders and imaginative illustrations, but do you really know how it all comes together? Most people really underestimate the process of such images and often, first or second year students might not even have an idea how to go about doing this. This tutorial is for creative simplistic, minimal yet sometimes stunning illustrations. Of course, we explain adding colour in detail, but you still have to understand that there are two major processes before and after this stage. You may need to have a decent model to begin with in a 3D modelling program like Rhino or Sketchup. After adding colour, there’s still a lot of post-production that you can work on.

If you’re really stuck, look for some inspirational images online. You can look at Pinterest or even Instagram. We’d suggest starting in your own university, look at works of those studying masters to understand the processes behind these types of images. You could even look at units who have websites or blogs and look through the archives and find one that appeals to you and your project. It can be the colour palette, composition or small details. Personally, I like printing them out and keeping it in front of me so it’s always in my mind. Best if you have a noticeboard or plain wall in front of your desk.

Bartlett Living Laboratory – Eleni Pourdala

We’re using a 3D model as a base for this image and any other illustrations. This isn’t compulsory, but if you’re already modelling your building and are planning on using it for other purposes, it can be easier to do it this way. The other alternative is to come up with illustrations based simply off a sketch or your imagination. Usually these aren’t to scale so there aren’t any restrictions, but a model can help with overall measurements and figuring out the scales of walls or objects. If you’re here for just the adding colour part of the tutorial, skip ahead here.

The Importance of a Base Model for Line Work

At this point in the year, you should have a really solid 3D model or at least a part of your project that is decently and properly modelled. It can be a good idea to create a separate model just for your perspectives. We’ll tell you why. You don’t want to constantly be having to model things for no reason when it’s not going to be in view. So, your first step needs to be to clean up your model, save a new copy and then delete the parts you’re definitely not going to be working on.

We think this is most helpful if you have custom structures or cladding that goes around the entire building. Try and not make the mistake of overloading the model with imported objects. If you’re going for an illustrated look, you don’t actually need 3D modelled furniture, you can just add it in post-production. Remember your image is about the architecture first and the details just enhance the architecture and the project.

Keep things as simple as you can. If you have a scene or view in mind use a camera to play around till you get a good view. At this point we’d recommend you think about composition as well. Have a look at general architecture photography for real projects. You can even sketch out or clay-render different options. We often make the mistake of trying to fit as much in as possible and while this may be fine for an overhead view or axonometric projection, these kinds of images are giving a glimpse into your project and you will only have 3-4 of these in total so choose your scenes carefully.

Another thing to consider is the presentation of the image. Is your projection portrait or landscape and if either, think about why? Try and have a focal point of the image and show some kind of depth if possible. Usually during painting or photography, you think about a foreground, middle-ground and background so try and sketch this out and try a couple of different compositions. You might be able to change the composition later on, but it depends on your model.

After you’ve set a scene for your image, we would suggest doing a couple of test renders using the basic rendering engine on your software and then exporting line drawings to see what needs to be fixed or changed. This process can be the toughest bit for those starting out so don’t worry, just plan ahead of time! If you’re going to be creating 3-4 final images and they’re all illustrations, set out 2-3 weeks of time, leaving an extra week for portfolio final touches.

Test Render

Exporting Options

The line drawing is probably the most important part of this tutorial, it needs to be immaculate, trust us. If you have any gaps, awkward or missing lines, it’s just going to make the process 10 times longer later on – we’re talking from experience and frustration. Depending on your software, you need to work out whether the line drawings are clear and easy to work with. Our recommendation is to use the version of Sketchup that lets you export a line drawing as a pdf or DWG file. Sketchup is also easy to use for shadows and depth of field. The type of file to export is up to you but we’d suggest either AutoCAD or Illustrator, whichever one you’re more comfortable with, but we’ll tell you the differences later. You could also sketch in parts in Photoshop if you have access to a drawing tablet.

If you haven’t already exported or imported your model into a software where you can then export a line drawing from, do it. Then, think about the shadows. In Sketchup you can play around with this quite easily. It might be a good idea to note down the type of day or consider the location of the project to get a better understanding of this. If your project comes alive during the night, you don’t need to think about every single shadow, maybe just ones that are obvious. On the other hand, if your final image is during the day, think about the orientation of your building and where the sunlight will be coming from. Lastly, export just a shadow layer as a png. If you don’t know how to do this, we’d suggest this video that explains it perfectly.

OU Graphics

An organisation tip at this point is to create a folder specific to this one image. You’ll find you’ll end up with not just the model, but several iterations of exports that you’ve tried, and then other things so just keep it all in one place for easy access.

Folder for each image

Editing the line drawing

After exporting the saved scene as a line drawing, you need to go over and check it for any missing or extra lines. The hidden line feature in Sketchup sometimes misses over objects that haven’t been classified as a 3D object such as lines. From experience, AutoCAD is much easier and quicker than Illustrator, but both do the job in the end. The reason for this is that the ‘trim’ tool in AutoCAD makes life so much easier because you can get rid of lines efficiently. Here, you can also set up the page view. For example, in the image below, there were some elements that stuck out of the ‘border’ which made it seem a bit more 3D and gave it an edge.

Essentially, just go over every area of the line drawing. Highlighting the lines in AutoCAD works great. This is because when you try using the live paint function, you need closed shapes so that the colours aren’t spreading everywhere. It’s also good to mention, if you prefer using Photoshop directly to add colour and want to see a tutorial, tell us in the comments below. Once you’re happy, you can keep it as a dwg and import to Adobe Illustrator or save the line drawing as a pdf. Save an extra copy just in case. You can use this later on for other purposes.

Adding colour using Live Paint

Before you get started, open up the line drawing in Adobe Illustrator and check your page sizes and set the document colour mode to CMYK. Then, bring out that inspiration image and have a look at the colours used. Are they warm or cool tones? It is extremely bright or muted down? Then, think about the colours you want to use. You might already be imagining something already, but it can be a good idea to take a break and look through a few more pictures. The colours aren’t set in stone, you can change them in Illustrator and also using adjustment layers in Photoshop.

If you need some ideas, have a look at our Pinterest board for Perspective References. There’s no right or wrong way of doing things, it’s just a means of helping you start. If you have your own idea, go for it.

First, set out your core colours off to one side. Draw out small squares with the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a palette that’s visible on your workspace. You can also create swatches and palettes from this if you want to re-use it for something else. This will make your life so much easier when you’re live painting in each section. The best method would be to start with one colour and go and fill it throughout the entire image. Yes, you may miss spots or have to go back and change a few things, but it creates a workflow that is way better than having to go back and change colours each time.

Then, select your linework, and head to Object > Live Paint > Make. Click on one of your swatch squares using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and then the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) and start painting.

Your hard work of checking the line drawing comes into play right now. The areas highlighted with a red border are the paintable areas. If you don’t see the border or if it groups together two shapes this means there is something wrong with the line work. In Adobe Illustrator, you can fix this by closing the line using the Direct Selection Tool (A). You don’t necessarily need to ‘add’ or draw in a new line, just extend the line or make it smaller so that it connects with another line and creates a closed shape.

This process can take a long time depending on how much detail there is in your drawing and the amount of colours you’re going to be using. Remember to SAVE your work every now and then. I like to set reminders every half hour on my phone so that in case of errors, I don’t lose the entire colouring process. Illustrator may act up or lag in these cases so try and not have any other big programs running in the background. Once you’re done, you will reach a fully coloured stage. In this example, I’ve left out the background where the sky would be and the insides of the apartments because this is part of my post-production.

If you’re not happy with the colours and want to drastically change it in the entire image, you can select one area with that colour, then go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. This will select all the areas with that colour and then you can change it using your colour picker. If you would prefer to lighten or darken the image, we would suggest leaving it to Photoshop where you can tweak these easier.

To import your work into Photoshop, you can easily do this as an Illustrator file so there is no need to export into different formats. To finish this drawing, it needs a sky, shadows, textures and people. At the end of this tutorial, you’ll find the final image.

Post-production in Photoshop

Now the long bit is over, relax and take a breather. Then come back and keep going! The post-production part of this tutorial is up to you as a designer and the style you’re actually going for. You’ve got the hard part done by adding colour. In Photoshop, if you’re using the coloured image as your base layer, you can very easily create masks and select different areas which is exactly what you want. Now, your options are to add some texture or overlay effects and even add people. We’ll explain briefly how to do it below, but we will be creating tutorials on this later so don’t worry.

If you’re raring to go or just want to get an idea of what post-production is, have a look at the tutorials below. We love tutorials by OU Graphics and Show it Better, they’re explained well and aren’t hours long. Once you understand how it’s done, you can repeat the steps yourself – don’t fret if it takes longer on the first try.

Show it Better
OU Graphics

Also remember, the level of realism is up to you. If you’re focused on presenting something abstract and extremely minimal, you can stop at the previous step and move on to your next task. Obviously, the amount of work you put in will give different kinds of results so take this into account. The time spent on each image also should be taken into consideration so that you’re not spending too much time on one image. Usually, after you do the first one, you’ve understood the method and then as you progress, it’ll be faster.

At this point, add in your shadows and remember to use a layer mask to get rid of or add in shadows. You can use a soft Brush to paint in the shadows if you’re going for a softer look. Decrease the Opacity and make use of the different blending modes like ‘multiply’ or ‘soft light’ and see which works best in this case. Sometimes, you might have to re-size the shadow because it’s been through a couple of programs so our tip would be to find a straight edge of something you can clearly see in both your line drawing and your shadow image and match it via that.

Adding even one simple overlay texture can make all the difference to your image. It just gives a natural looking element that isn’t there when you’re just adding colour to something. To get rid of the flat look, just add in a paper texture. You can do this by finding a high-quality image of a paper such as watercolour paper, then add it in to your image as a new layer. After that, you want to go and set the layer to ‘multiply’ and then play around with the opacity so that it looks natural. Then, you can see the difference it makes. For images with a softer and lighter colour palette, this one step makes it even more beautiful.

To add areas to specific areas, we would definitely tell you to use Layer Masks. If you’re not familiar, have a look at this tutorial below by PHLEARN. He explains layer masks very simple and you can play around with the feature to get comfortable using it in your own work. This is important because it means you’re working in a non-destructive way. You don’t want to be accidentally erasing or painting over your base layer and then having to replace it. Plus, working with multiple layers can get confusing if you don’t label or group them properly. It’s better to get in the habit now, than being confused while you’re almost done but become stuck.

Other textures might include wood, metal, leather, anything that is present in your line drawing that could use a texture. Again, make sure you’re using high-quality images. Plants and grass might be easier to add at this stage. If you don’t want to use a realistic plant – which some people do – you can open it in Illustrator and use the Image Trace function to create a vector out of it. This keeps the plant proportions and colours and you can get an illustrated effect instantly. If you want to learn how to do this, check out our ‘Adding People’ tutorial.

For post-production, lighting is a core part of the process. You don’t need to go crazy with this. Below is an example of a tutorial by OU Graphics on adding light in your images. Some soft light can be quickly added using the brush but if you have a night-time scene you might want to go for a neon light situation, in which case you can have a look at the tutorial below.

Don’t forget to add some life to your drawing! Whether it’s interior or exterior images, adding people doesn’t have to be difficult or a chore. If you struggle way too much or don’t have any time, maybe consider leaving it out.

Adding colour to your architectural drawings and perspectives doesn’t need to be overly complicated. It requires a lot of time, effort and patience. If you’re willing to give your best in order to achieve the results you want, you will surely be able to do it. Just remember that the ‘adding colour’ bit is part of a larger process overall that we’ll be breaking down in the coming weeks. Have a look at the final result below. If there is anything specific you want to learn how to do or have questions, let us know on Instagram or join our Discord chat where we encourage members of our community to share tips and ask for help.

How to Prepare for Architectural Technology Modules

How to Prepare for Architectural Technology Modules

When explaining architecture to a person who knows nothing about it, usually the words ‘designing’ ‘buildings’ or ‘drawings’ come about. But not many people talk about the technological aspects of the course. This may be because if you don’t already have experience working with real projects in a firm, your main focus is on hypothetical projects that don’t need a technology viewpoint.

But to prepare architecture students for the real world, it’s important to touch on architectural technology including basic construction ideas and the knowledge of how exactly a building is made and then in turn, how that combines with the design.

This article is aimed at the undergraduate students, especially second and third years who may have no idea how to prepare for the technology modules. Usually, this comes in the second term while you’re in between design work and maybe finished with dissertation so it’s really important to be able to multi-task as best as possible.

What is the technology module / dissertation / submission?

The actual technology ‘module’ or dissertation in some universities can vary because each place will have their own education method and requirements so unfortunately, without looking directly at the brief, we can’t give guidance on each and every aspect. The deadlines, type of submission and other requirements completely depend on the university and can be better that way if you have a lot of guidance. Here, we’re going to be speaking from personal experience, so if something isn’t the same for you, just ignore it.

Now you might be thinking, I already have so many different projects and deadlines and now technology has been added to that. We’ve already explained the purpose of the submission, but the overall idea is to enhance your design project. This adds a level of detail and actually shows the examiner how the project moves from being hypothetical to reasonably realistic. By doing research about various things like case studies, detail drawings and other tests or experiments, you’re learning key skills.

From experience, the technology module or dissertation is a booklet of information that includes the project and its context as well as some tests, case studies and development of the project’s technological focus. It also includes drawings such as plans, sections and detailed construction drawings on a large scale. Check out this example on Issuu.

What are the aims and objectives?

The purpose of a technology module is for students to understand the technical aspects involved in any kind of building project, no matter how big or small. This has to integrate with your design project but focusing more on an element rather than the entire building. Often, the aims and objectives will be provided to you in the form of a brief or marking guide so make sure you read it properly and understand what it wants you to do.

Thinking from a submission and marking perspective, the examiners are just looking for an understanding of technical elements. They basically want to see that you can create and draw out basic concepts that have derived from your project. For example, when testing out an element, you don’t have to have successful outcomes. They want you to fail and learn how you failed and then what you did to correct the situation. This shows growth in your projects.

As well as this, the examiners are looking for high quality work with innovative ideas. Of course, working on a ‘simple’ technical element is difficult enough, but if you broaden your creativity and come up with unusual ideas that may very well not work, it shows that you like to experiment and think outside of the box.

How does this help you later down the line? Architects don’t work alone on a building from start the finish. There are many other professional people involved who will need to understand your thinking and ideas through your drawings. If you ever sit down with a constructional engineer you will realise the jargon and overall concepts are much more different to architecture. You will also need to make others understand how exactly your vision comes to life. It’s all good and well designing a beautiful roof structure but if you don’t have the technology behind it sorted it, no one will have an idea on how to actually construct it.

In addition, the technology module is great for prospective employers. Whilst working in a firm, you will be tasked on various things that you didn’t necessary learn in university because you were working on hypothetical projects. This is where having a technological understanding comes in handy. Although you might not be an expert in it, you have a solid base where it makes it easier for you to learn as you go rather than learning from scratch whilst on the job.

Breakdown of content

The following ‘chapters’ may not be required or could be slightly different depending on your course and university. This example is from the 3rd year technology dissertation at the University of Greenwich.

Project Context – This is all the information you have already gathered so far for your project. You have to basically think about how you would introduce the project to someone who may have not looked at your design work. This includes analysis of the site, the brief, your key drivers for the project and even where it is located. It’s basically background information.

RMS – This is a research methods statement. This is where you explain your technology focus, again with the context of the design project. The RMS is also a standalone document that gives an outline of the technology submission.

Dissertation – The dissertation is the main element of the submission. It has two parts, first the aims and technical questions that need to be answered, the case studies and the actual investigations carried out with experiments. The second part is the drawings. This includes plans, sections and detail drawings as well as a 3D view if needed.

Audit – this part explains the real-world technicalities of the project. For example, the costs, materials, building regulations and health and safety. Luckily, it doesn’t need actual figures but simply an understanding of the way it works.

Our top tips


Here at :scale we heavily emphasise on organisation. It is a lifesaver! Similarly, for the technology submission, the best thing you can do is organise yourself. Set out a couple of hours once you have the brief, to brainstorm on your project and make a template of the pages you need. We would recommend you buy a small notebook where you can keep your ideas. It will also come in handy during tutorials with your tutors regarding tech.

If your brief doesn’t already include a breakdown of the pages you need, either make one yourself or look at past projects to get a better idea of the structure. We’ve already touched on this above. Then, create a file in Adobe InDesign and set up a front cover (not the final thing), the pages, headings and subheadings and other details you know you need to include. This way you’re not creating pages one by one and slowly adding it to a folder, you can instantly lay out a page in your file and keep it all in one place, ready to go. If you have ideas for the presentation or colour scheme it makes your life much easier. Personally, we would say keep it simple but do something fun with it that doesn’t go over the top. If you need ideas, have a look on our Pinterest board ‘Layouts’.

A small but crucial part of the technology is to come up with a technical focus. This might be something new you’ve thought of or something you want to build on. Let’s use ‘natural ventilation techniques’ as an example. If you wanted to make your building more sustainable, for whichever reasons, you need to come up with ways in which you can introduce natural ventilation. An example of this can be a wind catcher or wind tunnel. Using this as one of your technical experiments, you need to think about the kinds of tests you can do to ensure you have the best model.

  1. Placement of the wind tunnel – here you can experiment where it will be placed, depending on the orientation of the building, you can do wind experiments on site, 3D model a wind tunnel and use software to understand where it will catch the most wind.
  2. Design – think about the best kind of design of a wind tunnel. Look at existing ones, the materials, the size, all kinds of factors.
  3. Efficiency – obviously, you can’t test this on site, but you could simulate conditions via a 3D software or a scaled physical model.

Essentially, the more factors you have to test, the better. But you need to make sure it makes sense with the rest of your project. Why are you testing this? Why is it important for the project as a whole? The best part is, even if some tests don’t work it, you can and should include it so that the examiners can see you tried various routes and then finally settled on the best outcome possible. This bit is probably the part where most students get stuck, they don’t know what exactly they need to ‘test’ but once you’ve got some ideas, it becomes very easy to keep going.

By planning ahead of time, you’re leaving yourself more time to work on the real stuff. You don’t want to be rushing at the end working on the layout of the dissertation even though it is an important part. Planning ahead also means thinking about printing services. For some technology dissertations, drawings are also required but these have to be to scale and therefore need to be on sheets of A3, A2 or even A1 and have to be folded and stuck in. Make sure you leave space for this and plan and scale your drawings well.

It’s also a good idea to have two copies of your dissertation, one for the submission and one for yourself or as part of your portfolio. Make sure you decide on how you will print your document and understand roughly how many days it will take. Then, count back from the day before your deadline and set it as your own deadline to finish everything. You want to leave a day or two for adding in the drawings and checking everything is good. If you can, try leave a backup option in case nothing works out. This could be a simple printed out booklet you make yourself.

Use your 3D models to your advantage. You don’t need an exquisite physical or digital model for this. Smaller, prototype models or experiment models are great. A good tip would be to duplicate your current digital model, extract out the area of focus, whether it’s a sliver of your building or a corner and use that file for the base of your technology drawings. Remember, you don’t need fancy renders or illustrations, a simple line drawing in orthogonal view is great. If possible, try and model the building with actual layers of the walls, the structure etc. so that when you draw a section out, it’s already there. Some programs like Revit or Vectorworks make it easy for you to do this.

Don’t forget

This was our breakdown on architectural technology, what it is, what you need and our top tips for getting through this module. If you want to see more useful and helpful articles or even our tutorials, make sure to check them out below or by going on to our Blog page.

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Analysing Architecture Case Studies for Beginners

Analysing Architecture Case Studies for Beginners

What is a Case Study?

You might be at the stage in your design where you have come up with a first iteration of your building and there’s just not enough depth to it, or it looks empty, has no real meaning behind it. This is common when you’re starting out so don’t panic. At this point, your tutors might suggest looking for a case study to further enhance your project. That might sound good, but how do you even start? What even is a case study you might ask?

This small but integral part of any design project is seemingly overlooked. There aren’t many helpful guides or set of instructions out there. (Trust me, we looked.) First you need to define for yourself what a case study is. For some projects, a case study can be the starting point of a project, for others it can be a link or reference that is relatable and can be explained easily.

For example, whenever Sana is explaining her project – a Vietnamese modular community that includes housing, commercial space and a community centre, she often describes the exterior skin of the building – which is made up of building services – as a smaller scale Pompidou Centre. Most architects will be able to understand immediately, and the Pompidou Centre is so well-documented, that it made for a great case study in her project. Breaking down the components of the building skin and the way in which it is organised helped adapt the idea for a domestic project. It also makes sense for the purpose of extracting out the services and putting them on the exterior of the building.


In the same way, the case studies you choose must have some kind of purpose or addition to your project. Your building doesn’t need to be a true representation of the building, that’s not what a case study is for. By researching and understand concepts other architects have used, you can apply the same rules and ideas to your own project and take it from there.

It’s perfectly fine to be fixed on a certain project that inspires your own from the get-go, but we think having a few case studies after your first iteration of drawings allows you to shape your building when you already have a set of building blocks. When analysing case studies, you’re essentially looking for interesting parts of the project that may or may not apply to your design. By understanding what someone else has done in the past, and how it’s worked, you can aim to design better whilst you’re adding to your own creative juices.

How do I pick a Case Study?

Obviously, there are a ton of amazing projects out there and you may already have a lot of knowledge about a few, but you really have to stop and think whether this particular building is going to help you. If you get lucky, your tutor might even suggest you look at a building in more detail, which makes your life much easier. On the other hand, if you have no idea where to start, think about these next steps.

First, you need to figure out which kind of building you’re designing. For example, you need to think whether it is residential based, a public building, a private mixed-use project – basically the category your project may come under. This way, you can narrow your search and find projects with the same outline as yours. This doesn’t mean a completely unrelated building won’t come in handy. Parts of a building might be more important than it’s purpose. For example, looking at the use of glass blocks in Maison de Verre by Chareau helped inspire a project about viewing and optical elements and combining public and private spaces.


Then, you need to make sure there are parallel factors between the case study and your own project. This can be the environment or climate, something that is similar which you can relate back to. If there aren’t any, you can always choose to implement some in your project. Make sure you’re discussing this with your tutor before you do a whole case study on a project they don’t think will relate well enough. Remember, they are there to guide you and may often have better knowledge about a range of buildings. Better yet, if your brief includes buildings of interest, you can always start with these.

What to look for

Once you’ve found your case study, you need to start by doing a literature or desktop study, which in simple terms means, Google it. Look at various websites to get a full idea of the project. Usually websites like Arch Daily will have a lot of these projects outlined as fact-filled pages. We’ll leave some more useful links at the end of the article so keep reading!


Usually, your building site will be somewhere in your city. Projects you choose for a case study might not be in the same city or country even. If you have a strong connection with other parts of the building, the environment and climate might not be that essential. It can be good to see the ways in which the building has been designed to accommodate for these features. If it hasn’t, you can still explain this and propose a solution regarding your building. Think about the average type of weather, the kind of soil type and where the site is.

Interesting Structures

You may find that a part of the building appeal to you much more than any other details. If the function of the space isn’t relevant, but there is an amazing structural quality that you think you can use, focus on that. For example, the use of a type of beam or steel structure, or even the materials that they have used for the structure can be vital to turning your building into something much more interesting.

Surroundings / Access Points

As well as internal parts of the case study, you also need to evaluate how the building interacts with its surrounding. Look at transport around the building, the kinds of neighbouring buildings (if any) and in relation, the entry and exit points of the building. Eventually you can also do this for your own project, in a simpler model to understand the relationship with the area.

Building Requirements

Research further into the use of the building and all of the spaces inside. You can go into as much detail as you want, that depends on your project or brief and what exactly you want to get out of the case study. If it is possible to make a physical visit, try it and document the process as much as you can. Think carefully about the spaces inside and their purposes.

Other requirements may change as time goes by. If it is an old building, you can look at the history of the case study and if the building has changed any way, how it has changed or why. If the case study is of a broader type of project, it might also change depending on the time of day. Be sure to research into all kinds of aspects of the project and the perspective from different people and the requirements they may have.

Form + Function

Here, you need to analyse both the form and function of the building. This includes outer and interior appearances. If anything pops out at you, make sure to find different photos of it or even sketches to understand the way in which it has been designed. Then the function, which is similar to the building requirements but can perhaps be better explained coming from the architects themselves if possible.

Some buildings may have extreme aesthetical features that can be harder to achieve and design. Figure out the ways in which these forms have been created through smaller test models of your own and adapt them to your own building. Remember, the point of a case study is to enhance your own project. There’s no point doing all this research without making use of it.

Building Services

If needed, you can focus of the technical aspects of the case study. When looking into residential spaces, the HVAC systems or other hidden systems could be of interest if your project is aimed in that direction.

Lastly, make sure to have a lot of key images of the case study. Don’t opt for standard front elevations, look deeper and focus on details if possible.

Preparing your portfolio

After you have done a ton of research and compiled this all together, you need to find a way to fit it into your portfolio. We advise you to place these pages in the early part of your portfolio, when the design is being developed. We’ve put together a brief list of the kinds of pages you might present this information in. It’s not all compulsory, do the ones which fit your project best.


Don’t overload the page no matter how large your page size is. Pick 4-5 key images that you can explain further later on. Make sure they’re of good quality when printed. Text should be needed if necessary.

Site Analysis

A site analysis might be the best way to present your findings. This kind of page can be a simple diagram of the building with annotations explaining the interesting features you found and why they are important. For more information, you can read our article ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Site Analysis’

Models and Tests

If you end up doing any tests with physical or digital models, put these in. It shows you have connected with the project and taken the initiative to figure out aspects of your own building. These can be extremely helpful when coming up with later iterations of drawings.

Opportunities and Constraints

An opportunities and constraints diagram is usually for the site analysis but can be prepared for case studies too. You don’t need to go into too much detail but if you feel it is needed you can most definitely create one.

Literature Review

All the facts and figures you have gathered, as well as any historical information, you can include with images or diagrams. Try not to overload the page with too much text, you just want to get across the key points.

So, that’s our beginner’s guide for case study analysis. Hope we didn’t miss anything, but if you feel like we did, leave a comment below. Let’s also start something new: Publish your portfolio online (your own website is great, we also love Issuu) and leave a link down below, this way we can have a look at each other’s portfolios!

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Tips for Writing an Incredible Essay

Tips for Writing An Incredible Architectural Essay

An architectural essay can be a bit tricky to navigate and these tips would also apply to other degrees and courses other than architecture and each course has its own layout, structure and must-haves so make sure you check these with your course leader first. University level essays can be a bit different than college or school ones and actually count towards your degree in some way.

In school / college, you were probably given a certain method or structure to follow. It’s similar in university but things are taken much more seriously. Like plagiarism. It’s just not a good idea so don’t even consider it. Neither is getting someone to write your essay for you, if thats a friend, or a paid stranger. Just follow your course outline and make sure you do the work and it’ll be fine.

Everyone has their own level of writing, some are good, some are bad but it doesn’t mean you can’t be better. Practising writing essays and getting them reviewed very often can allow you to see the changes you need to make and the areas you can work on. For some, it could be simple as grammar and spelling (although there are spell checks embedded into all writing programs, it’s always a good idea to do it manually). For others, it may be the actual content of what you’re writing.

Here in the U.K. students are provided with expert teachers who have expertise in essay writing as well as profound knowledge on most of the topics you and your peers will be writing about. Make sure you use them! After all, you’re paying so much money for a degree.

Essays can be a great way for you to explore the many different aspects of architecture apart from design. You could look into an architect, a building that interests you or an architectural movement. The topic can depend on the generic brief that you get as a part of your course but usually the essay question is up to you. After you start writing your essay, you might question the point of them.

Speaking from personal experience as someone who didn’t really know much about the world of architecture, the essays I wrote opened up a lot sources of knowledge. I was able to recognise various architects and their works, as well as implement some tried and tested ideas and theories into my own work. The essays you write in your first and second year also gear you up for your BA dissertation and eventually a Master’s thesis.

We reckon the most important part of an essay is the research. The research is the backbone of the essay because you’re essentially pulling together different references and adding your own observations and opinions. Credible references are key for any essay and making sure you pick a good article or paper can really help elevate the writing.

We suggest, before even writing those first words, you should do a bit of reading into your topic and even if you don’t want to use any articles or papers, have a quick read to understand the format and the language. We know as architecture students you don’t have a lot of ‘free time’, we get it. But there are a lot of available resources online. It can be as simple as finding the pdf of a book or article, saving it offline on your phone and reading it on your lunch break or on your way to uni.

Sometimes, if you find even one key research paper or source, it can make or break your whole essay. It’s also wise to make sure your topic is worth covering. If there are little to no sources it could get quite tricky later on in the process. Discuss this with your tutor so they can advise your further. It’s also good to mention you will be writing an abstract or a short summary at some point. Ask a non-architectural friend or family member to read it and see if it makes sense regardless of the content.

So, once you have at least a handful of resources, you need to make sure you’re saving them. The best way to do this is to download the articles and save them in a ‘References’ folder. You can do this on your laptop browser or print them and keep them in a physical folder so that you have access at all times or if you’d prefer it that way.

Then, you could create a reference list in a Word document. Don’t spend a long time writing out each reference manually. Instead, go to the References tab then find Citations & Bibliography and add a new citation.

You can also change the style of the reference according to whichever one your university wants and even create a reference list or bibliography with a simple click. Make sure you check this in your course handbook or, if it’s not listed anywhere, clarify it with your tutor or course leader. Some universities are also a bit iffy on the type of fonts you use or what information you have to include so make a note of it somewhere and try set it all out in the beginning.

Being organised about your references and articles means you don’t have to keep looking for that one article you are using a lot and it keeps the documents offline so even if you don’t have great Internet access, it’s available to you whenever and wherever. You can do this even when you’re starting out with your writing so that everything is already there for you to use. When you finish and you’re in the editing stage, you can easily go back and delete any you didn’t end up using. It’s basically better to have more than have none and be struggling to add your references in nearer to the deadline.

The type of references you use is also important because the markers will be looking at whether you just stuck to using the Internet or actually went and found some books or physical material to support your essay. The worst thing you could do to yourself is not use the resources given to you. Some tutors may give you reading material or a list of article to give you a start. Ask if you can include these or not!

Remember, you’re paying for the library and the Internet access as well as all your classes, so make the most of them. Markers will want to see you use books, and some will have a strong opinion if you don’t. Most universities will also allow for student logins to well-known websites that can provide specific articles and research papers with tons of filters.

The Wiley Online Library is great for this sort of thing. Find it HERE.

If you’re struggling, speak to a member of the library staff or if your university has a dedicated team for help with essays (don’t get this confused, they can’t write anything for you) then try get in touch with them or ask a student support officer or your tutors. We can’t stress how important it is to use all the tools given to you. If for any reason, you don’t have access to anything try speak to a staff member who can help you out.

The content and quality of the essay depends on the writer so make sure you have some basic tips and method down before you get stuck in. It also helps a lot if you’re passionate or have an interest in the topic because realistically, why would you be writing about something that doesn’t interest you? It can be very difficult to write about something that a. you know nothing about and b. something you’re not interested in. The topic doesn’t need to relate to you directly, it can be a small aspect or link that you identify with and want to know more about. Remember, it also has to make sense with the brief / theory / topic you’ve been given.

The most daunting task of writing an essay is getting started. Writing the first word. Yes, a blank page is terrifying but what’s more terrifying is writing a 2000 word essay the night before the hand-in. Nobody is saying you have to start with the introduction (although it would make sense) but you can start with the area you’re most interested in. We often take for granted the small wonders of our computers. Everything is going to get edited at some point, so even if you write something you don’t like or you think it would fit better someplace else, you can do it!

After you write the first few sentences you should be good to go. After that, you just need to keep your articles on hand and some notes or a plan of your essay. The environment you’re in should be tailored to you. Where do you work best? A quiet room or in the library is usually the best place. Whether you’re listening to music or watching Friends, it’s up to you as long as you don’t get distracted.

Take breaks! Not only while you’re dedicating time to writing your essay – this is also important – but also every few days. Take a day or two to not focus on your essay and work on your other pile of design work that has accumulated. Then, when you come back to read through what you have written, it will be with semi-fresh eyes. Having a balance between the essay and other commitments is difficult but not impossible. Plan your time, have a schedule, it’s things you’ve already been told so we won’t dwell on it.

After you have written your essay, it can be the best time to come up with your essay title. A 6-8 worded sentence that summarises what you will be looking into is perfect. Coming to such perfection takes time. You could always create a few options and ask yourself or your peers which ones reads best. It could be a standout winner or a mix of a few.

But before you think you’re done, you have to take the time to read over your essay, then read it again, and then read it again. Keep doing this till you’re fully happy with it. A good trick can be to print out the essay so that you have something physical to read. Grab a coloured pen or highlighter and be amazed by how many spelling or grammar mistakes you could find.

Don’t always rely on the spelling checker in whichever program you are using. It can also be helpful if you want to move around chunks of your essay or figure out where you want pictures to be added. Creating physical notes for yourself is far different to seeing the same words on a screen.

Lastly, an architecture essay has got to have some visuals because after all, we are visual thinkers and designers. The most important tip is that the images should be absolutely relevant to the essay and add to it. If the images are just there to look pretty, then don’t bother putting them in because it won’t make any sense and the marker won’t like it either.

You could even scan in some sketches you do to explain features of a building for example. It adds a personal touch that shows you had a real interest in the topic. Don’t forget to add captions to your images and the sources for images you’ve taken from the Internet.

Lastly, the presentation of your essay is also important. As designers, we’re expected, in a way, to create our work to the best visual standard possible. So why not get rid of the standard template essay cover (unless your university asks for something plain) and create a visual yourself. Customise the accent colours or apply a cool format – something that helps you stand out. Check out some cool layouts on Pinterest.

To summarise, the few things that will help you write a great architectural essay are to do your research, save the articles and papers you want to use, make sure you take full advantage of the university resources, proofread your work multiple times and add those useful images at the end.

Let us know what some of the things you do for essays are and if you have a foolproof method for getting through writing an essay. You can leave a comment below or contact us through our social media.

How to Add People in Your Architectural Drawings

How to Add People in Your Architectural Drawings

Adding people to your architectural drawings at any stage can be a great way to communicate how the spaces in your building will interact with the occupants. They show how the building will be used and it’s target audience. The design of these people can be as minimal as a simple line drawing all the way to a fully-fledged character.

Usually this is the last thing you would think of during any project. But it’s better to get the smaller tasks out of the way first so that you can focus on creating drawings and images nearer to your deadline.

  1. Hand Drawn
  2. Vector People
  3. Photographs
  4. Custom

They should synchronise with the style of drawing and yet not overpower it completely. After all, you want people to focus on your drawings instead of being distracted by static or odd-looking people. We’re going to show you four ways you can add people to your drawings. This includes plans, sections, elevations and final illustrations or renders. We will even show you some great and not so great examples.

You don’t need to spend a great deal of time creating people to fit inside your drawings. During a deadline, this is probably the last thing you will think about (as well as annotation) and there isn’t a need to get stressed over it. If your project focuses deeply on the relationship of people and the building you are creating, you could take some time beforehand and create a resource or library of such people that can be fit in to any of your drawings.

These techniques are great for any level whether you’re an architecture student, graduate or an architect. It’s always good to learn new techniques that can enhance your drawings and design.

Hand Drawn

If your style of drawing is more focused towards the art of creating amazing scenes by hand, or even if you want to express an area through simple sketching, then hand-drawn people are perfectly fine. As we said, these can be as minimal as you want, just make sure they don’t look out of place or too simple in the sense that you didn’t try so hard.

Going for a ‘sketch’ style can be great to add some life to simple, clean spaces so you can experiment with the actions of the people, for example. Have a look at some of the kinds of people that are used in drawings or renders by firms and well-known architects. Some even have a signature style which they implement in most of their drawings. This doesn’t even need to be something overly complicated. We love these people by SANAA.

SANAA Architects

To practice this kind of style, you could draw from life in your sketchbook and look at the way in which people actually move in various settings. If you’re wanting to have a hand-drawn style but keep things digital you can always scan in images of multiple people and edit them on Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

Tip: Use the Image Trace function in Illustrator and make sure Ignore White is checked so that you can create a person that has no background, making it easy to place on top of coloured illustrations. Then you can save each one as a .png and create a library of resources.

To learn how to use the Image Trace function, check out our article ’10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’

Alternatively, you could even create digital people in Adobe Photoshop with a textured brush pack if you have access to a graphics tablet or in Adobe Illustrator if you just want a cleaner outline silhouette. Don’t forget to scale the people accordingly so that it’s ready to go when the deadline is near.

You can figure this out by figuring out the scale that you use the most i.e. 1:100 and convert roughly 170cm. This means each ‘person’ will need to be about 1.7cm tall.

We’ve linked our Pinterest board below, specifically catered to different styles of people for such drawings. Give it a follow for regular updates.

Vector People

Stock Images

A very easy way for adding people to drawings are – as we like to call them, ‘vector people’. These can work great in Adobe Illustrator, but we’ll show you that in a bit. If you have final perspectives that are in an illustrative style or if you want to add colour and life to a simple line section then these can be great. Usually, you will find people that are positioned in multiple ways such as a side profile or sitting down so there isn’t much to work on.

Once again, having a resource of these people can make your life so much easier and it isn’t hard to customise these as you wish. You can find such images on Pinterest or free stock websites. If possible, try and find images that are in a .png format so you don’t have to worry about getting rid of the background each time.

We love using Freepik for free, high quality stock images. There is no download limit once you sign in and you can easily create a folder of however many you wish.

Customising Stock Images

To customise stock images, we like using Adobe Illustrator. Since it is a vector program, you can adjust the shape, colour and size without losing any quality. If you have a particular colour scheme, it can be nice to implement those colours into your people to make the drawing seem more cohesive. You can watch the video or read the instructions below.

Start off by downloading a stock vector image of people. We’ve used this one, so if you want to give it a go, try it along with us.


<a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com</a>

Click on the Free Download button and save it somewhere on your computer.

download the image from Freepik

Since we only want to use one to begin with we need to crop the picture. First place the image by going to File > Place and then click on Crop in the top toolbar.

place it in Illustrator
Crop to find the one you want to customise

Choose one person depending on what kind of action they are doing or whichever suits you best. We’ve chosen this one from the second row. Now, we’re going to re-size this so we can see it better. Use the Selection Tool (V) and click and drag the corners to make it bigger. So that you don’t lose the ratio of the image, hold down the Shift key while you are re-sizing.

make the image bigger and image trace

Next, open the Image Trace Panel and don’t stress if your image turns black and white, we can now work with the settings so that it becomes a vector you can work with.

edit colours

Click on the Advanced arrow to open up more features. Then in Mode, select Colour. Check the Ignore White checkbox at the bottom and move the Colours slider to about 4 or 5 depending on how many colours you want in the image.

play around with the options

Next, click on the Expand button in the top toolbar. Now we can edit each shape as well as colours. Let’s alter the face shape so that there isn’t a white gap in between. We can also get rid of the shadow below by selecting it using the Direct Selection Tool (A).

fix any areas

Then, adjust any anomalies that might not look great. Now we can colour this as we want. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to click on a colour. Then go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. This selects that brown colour wherever it is present in the image, so you don’t have to go in and select or change each one.

Then, use the colour palette to select a new colour. Repeat this for others until you have a theme you want.

change colours

Now we’ve changed the colours to be a bit more minimal. To save the file for use later, you can save as a .png to add it directly to other drawings or save as a .ai (Illustrator) file to edit in the future. Go to File > Export As for a .png and File > Save As for a .ai file.

save the file

Make sure you select a transparent background for a .png file!

make sure the image has a transparent background

Vector people are a great and easy resource. You could even search for ‘isometric vector people’ if you’re doing that kind of an illustration or for isometric / axonometric drawings.


For renders are more life-like drawings, you may want to use actual people to make your project seem as real as possible and actually understand how that space would be inhabited. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a long process. Some people might want to use their own images with people which is totally fine. You could also use stock images that you find online.

There are essentially two routes you can take. Either use Adobe Photoshop to manually edit photographs and cut out the people you want or use .png images that are already edited with no background. Depending on the level of customisation either one is perfectly fine to use.

To find free stock images you can search on Freepik, or simply type in ‘people png.’ into Google Images.

Some firms even blur out the images to make it look like there is a moving blur or darken the image so that it turns into a silhouette. Have a look around at what kinds of styles there are and try not to copy it completely but use some of those techniques and apply it to your own drawings.

Usually this type of style is best for rendering as you can work with the lighting and make it look more natural with the addition of actual people. Try not to go overboard as less is more. You can also try scaling the people by figuring out the height and corresponding it with the scale of your drawing.

Custom People

Creating a custom set of people could be the way to go. We don’t recommend doing this close to your deadlines so if you do want to create your own people try do it in whichever spare time you get. The art style of this depends completely on your preference. It can be a simple squiggle, a detailed person or a character inspired by your building or your ideal occupant.

We suggest you experiment with whatever your comfortable with. You don’t need a variety of tools and gadgets and make sure that your scanner and Adobe programs are ready to go to edit and play with your drawings.

Having a set of custom resources can provide an advantage if you’re a student. It shows your tutors and even the examiner that you really want to show pride in your creations, drawings and people. If you’re an architect, there may already be a style your firm prefers but there is no harm in experimenting.

Finally, remember, the people in your drawings aren’t more important than the actual drawing or render or illustration itself. Think of it as an accessory to your work and a tool to help your drawings showcase some life. We would love to see some of your work where you have utilised the styles mentioned or even created your own custom people.

Use the hashtag #toscalearch on Instagram and Twitter and tag us @to.scale. We also want to feature student work and share more techniques and styles.

How to Create a Sun Path Diagram

How To Create a Sun Path Diagram – Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

A good Sun Path diagram is present in almost any architectural project. Being an architecture student, you don’t need an extremely detailed or highly accurate diagram full of numbers or figures. This method of creating a sun path diagram is done using Adobe Illustrator as well as online resources. To keep it simple, the diagram shows your site (where your building will be) and the surrounding buildings and the way in which the sun moves across this area.

For example, if your building is North facing, you can design according to the different lights that it will get. Adding windows and shade in specific places can make or break your design. By setting up your sun path diagram, you can get a rough idea of the things you need to keep a note of when it comes to designing. It can also be affected by the building heights and other constraints around the site.

This diagram should be in the beginning portion of your portfolio. Check out our Portfolio Guidance post. When you receive a brief, it should ideally come with a generic area or a specific site where you will be designing a building. As part of site research, a sun path diagram will show good research skills as well as showing that you understand the ways in which the sun can really affect your building and what you are going to do to accommodate it. This tutorial is for a simple Sun Path diagram, but we’ll be adding a 3D version soon as well as it’ll give more depth to your diagram.

A good idea is to find references. This help gives you inspiration if you don’t already have a clear idea of the layout or style you want. The best source is Pinterest. Check out our board ‘Sun Path Diagrams’.

The Steps

The first thing you need to figure out is your site. For this example, we are going to use a site in Shoreditch. We are going to use Digimap to download a version of a map of the area.

For this diagram, we are using an A2 page in portrait with the map scale at 1:1000. If you don’t know how to use Digimap follow our tutorial on How to Create Maps. After cleaning up the map, it should look something like this:

initial map

Make sure there aren’t any labels or extra vector shapes, just the building outlines and pavement outlines. The stroke width is set to 0.5pt for now.

Now, the map can be edited in several ways. You could use the Live Paint Tool to fill the closer buildings with a darker colour and the further away buildngs with lighter colours. Then, you can change the Stroke colour or get rid of it so that it has a clean, minimal look. We’re going to leave it as it is for now.

*Make sure you save your file; since we are working with a lot of detail, Adobe Illustrator could crash or lag.

Next, we need to figure out the sun position for the site. We use SunCalc. It’s a great website that shows you the exact sun positioning at whichever date and time you choose.

use Sun Calc to find your sun path

In this example, we’ve located our site, but the Sun Path needs to be set to a specific date and time. For diagrams like this, you can use Equinox dates.

adjust to a generic date and time

We don’t need the current time date, just the sunrise and sunset angles. Next, we’re going to use the Clipping Mask Tool from Windows / Mac, or anything similar that will print your screen. Save this image somewhere.

To place it into Adobe Illustrator, Create a New Layer and go to File > Place. Lock the map layer so you don’t accidently move it.

locking layers can be quite useful

Next, turn down the Opacity of the layer, and adjust the size to roughly match that of the map. Make sure you don’t change the map in any way as it is scaled. Now we know approximately where the sun path will be.

Lock the sun path image layer and turn it off for now.

adjust the sun path image

Create a New Layer and using the Ellipse Tool (L) Click and Drag to create a circle shape that is slightly smaller than the page. To make sure it is an even circle, hold down the Shift key. If you’re using later versions of Illustrator, you might not need to hold down. Look out for the link icon in the top toolbar.

The site should be in the middle of the circle. Then, go ahead and Unlock the map layer.

the circle is the base for the sun path diagram

Use the Selection Tool (V) or use the keys Ctrl + A to select everything. Then, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make or Right Click and choose Create Clipping Mask.

clipping masks

At this point, if you want to edit the map in any way, you can Right Click and select Isolate Selected Clipping Mask. Now we’re going to edit the map and add some colour using the Live Paint Tool.

To get back out, Double Click elsewhere. Now turn on the sun path image layer, Lock and Create a New Layer. Then, use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the two sun path angles. This gives us a rough outline of the way in which the Sun will move across this area.

draw the sun angles

Then, Using the Pen Tool (P) again, draw around the site with a different stroke colour. Here we have used red but anything that sticks out works fine.

create a site outline

To change the stroke to a Dashed line, go to the Stroke Panel by using the top toolbar or by going to Window > Stroke and click on Stroke to show several options. Then, check the Dashed Line box, and adjust this so that the dashes are visible.

dashed site outline

Now, Unlock the Map layer and making sure the outline is selected, drag and drop the small square in the Layers Panel down to the Map layer.


Next, get rid of the sun path image by Deleting the layer. Create a circle shape using the Ellipse (L) on the Map layer and make sure your Smart Guides are turned On. Drag the circle so that it is in the centre of the map circle, not to be confused with the site centre. You can use the Align Panel if you are having a difficult time.

add a circle in the centre

Select the Circle using the Selection Tool (V) and create a New Layer and drag and drop the small square on to the new layer. Then, Lock the map layer.

align to the centre

Create another small circle directly above the previous one and make sure you are on the correct layer. Position this so that the centre point is on the edge of the Map circle.

add a smaller circle

With the smaller circle selected, use the Rotate Tool (R) and click on the centre of the first circle, then hold down the Alt Key and click again. There should be another window prompting you to enter an angle.

use the rotate tool

With the preview button checked, enter approximate angles until they match the point where your two lines intersect the Map circle.

Then repeat this evenly for the bottom half, 3 times. You can do this by calculating the angle in between the two lines and then dividing by 4 and adding on each time. (Yes, this is where you can finally use your maths skills)

figure out your angles + note them down

You can now Delete the middle circle. Each of the circles represent the different times. The yellow circle is Sunrise (5am) and the blue circle is Sunset (10pm). The circles in-between are 10am, 3pm and 8pm respectively. Again, this doesn’t need to be detailed down to the minutes.

Delete the sun angle layer.

colour the circles

Now, Create a New Layer and lock the circles layer. Draw two lines using the Pen Tool (P) from the yellow and blue circle to the centre of the site. Then, draw a triangle shape from one of the orange circles. We are going to apply a gradient to this.

add in a triangle shape

Click on the triangle using the Selection Tool (V) and open the Gradients Panel. Go to Window > Gradient (Ctrl + F9).

Drag Down the orange fill colour on to the Gradient Slider. Then, click on the Black pointer and click the Delete button next to the slider.

adding gradients

Then, click on the White pointer, and set the Opacity to 0%. Now, use the angle, or the Reverse button to move the orange gradient so that it is coming out of the circle end. You could also use the Gradient Tool to adjust the angle of the gradient manually by clicking and dragging.

this gives an added layer so that all the circles don’t look the same

Repeat this step for the other three circles. You can apply the same gradient to the other shapes by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and adjusting if needed. Or just Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste (Ctrl + V) the same shape and Rotate.

make the white transparent

Add text to each circle using the Type Tool (T) and adjust the circles, colours and gradients as you see fit.

Final Thoughts

Below, you can see that we made the circles smaller because they were taking up too much space and defeating the purpose of the map. The text shows the times of the day. You could also add in a key at this point to differentiate between the different colours.

It is a good idea to stick to a simple colour palette at this point. If you already have a theme of colours in your portfolio, use those for the lines or site outline and try not to use bold or garish colours and this can distract from the work and look unprofessional.

final edits

We also created a darker scheme that can look more interesting but might not be suitable for your portfolio, you should always try and keep your portfolio neat and minimal.

This Sun Path Diagram tutorial was just one simple, basic way of creating a Sun Path. You can choose to add more detail or apply this to other kinds of diagrams based around the site. If you’re interested, we’ve also created a 3D Sun Path Diagram Tutorial to show you another way of spicing up your site analysis.

We would love to see any of your diagrams or hear about any other tips and methods that you use so we can share them with everyone.

Leave a comment below, or just let us know what other kinds of pages you would like a tutorial on!

How to Maintain a Theme in Your Portfolio

How to Maintain a Theme in Your Portfolio

An architectural portfolio should feel put together and professional with a theme, but for architecture students in particular, it can be hard maintaining a certain theme in about 20-50 pages. You may also think a theme isn’t necessary, but it provides a personal touch to your work as well as showing the examiner that you want to present your work in the best way possible.

Let’s clarify that by ‘theme’ we don’t mean anything extravagent. A set of fonts you’re going to use along with a clear colour palette and organisation method is all you really need. The main thing is that you need to stick to it.

As architects and designers, minimal design is probably the way to go because you want the work to speak for itself. By overflowing the pages with too much colour, unnecessary graphics and unreadable fonts, you’re just distracting from the actual work.

But the theme of your portfolio is not the only thing you will be focused on, you actually have to work on your design project as well as any essays or other courses and you might not even think about the portfolio until you’re half-way through the year.

This is a common mistake people make. Leaving the portfolio design and theme till after you have pages and pages of work just adds more tasks to your list. Ideally, by the time you have a mid-year portfolio review you want it to be as organised as possible so that it gives you time later on to work on things that matter. It can also make your work unorganised when presenting to tutors for the time being. Your work doesn’t need to be in its final form and layout but having a sense of order lifts the pressure when the deadline is near.

The first step you need to take is to prepare an Adobe InDesign file for your portfolio. Adobe InDesign is your best friend when it comes to layouts and portfolio design. If you aren’t already familiar with this software, take the time to learn the basics before you start architecture school. Keep this file accessible on your laptop or hard-drive.

You can find our article on Adobe InDesign HERE. Be sure to explore our ‘Getting Started’ series for more Adobe software as well as other 3D modelling software.

Create a portfolio document in Adobe InDesign, think about what size you want your pages to be. Usually this can be A1 or A2 for the developmental work and A1 for final images but have a chat with your tutor to figure out what’s best for you. Set the orientation and add about 10 pages to begin with. Save this file even if it’s blank for the moment.

Adobe InDesign

By doing this, you’ve already done far more than others, you have a sort of template set up where all your work will end up. This will resolve the issue of retrieving certain pages from different folders each time. At the end of the project, you can export this to many different formats and keep it all together in one place.

Remember to include those key pages in your portfolio such as a Front Cover and Contents page. You could even have a Drivers page and then individual section headers later on. These don’t need to be made immediately and can even be done at the very end but leave some space for these, so you don’t forget later on.

To look at an existing portfolio, find our portfolio walkthrough HERE.

There are many great features that you can use in Adobe InDesign, we love the Master pages as well as the rulers and guides. They help make sure the contents of your page are consistent throughout and everything is lined up in a neat way.

Make sure that your pages aren’t full of information. There are styles and layouts you can explore using Pinterest or Tumblr. Look at our board of Portfolio Layouts HERE.

Keeping things simple can be hard because you may have a lot of work you want to show. If you feel like this, try splitting work within two pages. It’s hard when you’re working online through a computer because the sizes of things can appear smaller than they actually are. When adding images and text look at the dimensions of things and refer back to your ruler to see if an image really needs to be that big. With text, you don’t want it to be in your face, so stick to a sensible size such as 10pt.

Also, too much text is unnecessary because the examiner will only spend about 3 seconds per page and if they absolutely need to, will go back and check any they are interested in so don’t waste time preparing pages of texts and instead focus on your design.

A minimal black and white portfolio can seem quite boring unless you use hand drawn textures, or your photography style is bold for example. If you want to use colour, limit this to two or three colours that compliment each other.

If you really want to go for bold and bright colours, make sure it relates to your project work and programme and then use neutral tones such as grey for your accent colours. For example, a great combination of colours can be black, grey and a deep red. The grey can be used for annotation and the red can be used for specific lines or other accents.

Adding a Colour Scheme

Regarding colours, make sure to go over your choices with your tutors and see what they think and even consider printing out a few pages in a smaller size to see how they work together. Sometimes colours can look different when on a computer screen as compared to on the page. Your paper type and weights also affect this so try and choose something complimentary.

Try not to print out too many of your pages in one go. As you may have already figured out, a lot of money is wasted in printing. Unless it’s for crits, try and stick to smaller print-outs at an A3 size. This will let ou avoid having to re-print pages each time you change something.

Small details are highly noticed in design work so try and think about ways in which you could personalise your work in some way. This doesn’t have to be anything big, in fact it can be as subtle as the North symbol on your drawings. Creating your own has some benefits, it keeps the drawings in the examiner’s minds because you didn’t use a standard North symbol that will be on all the drawings. It also adds a touch of your personality and can be tailored towards your project.

Our North Symbol


Think about small ways in which you can personalise your work, whether its through symbols or fonts. The typeface you choose can also add a sense of professionality as long as it isn’t too decorative or hard to read. Keep it modern and simple, we suggest using a Sans Serif font for your titles, subheadings and annotations. You can find these on free font websites such as Google Fonts or Dafont.

*If you are using custom fonts, make sure you don’t print directly from your editing softwares like Illustrator or InDesign. Always export as a PDF.

Now that you have your template sorted, it’s time to put in the work. The usual process we like to use is to sketch out what you want the page to show, create the elements in Illustrator or AutoCAD or any other software depending on what it is, then bring it in to Adobe InDesign to add text and annotation. We’ll go over this process in another article.

Planning your pages ahead can mean your portfolio isn’t all over the place and adds a sense of order and flow to your work. You could even split up your portfolio into different sections. This maintains the theme because you’re using the same format on most of your pages and still showing the development.

The best way to do this is to constantly review your portfolio. If you don’t already have mini deadlines throughout the year such as interim reviews or even month-end presentations, set some for yourself. Create a list or diagram of the pages you want to make by a certain date and try and stick to it by planning your time ahead. Every time you complete a page, tick it off and move on to the next. This way, you’re not spending a lot of time on one page or wondering about what to do next.

Planning your Pages

Then after each deadline – as well as reviewing your work and any changes you need to make – look at how your portfolio is doing in terms of the design and layout. You can always change around the order of pages whenever you want because everything is in one place.

A good way to edit your portfolio if you have too many pages is to look at each page individually and think about whether it conveys a certain message or stage in your project. Then, look at the pages before and after because chances are, when your portfolio is presented the pages before and after will be shown as well.

Finally, don’t stress too much about your portfolio design. As long as you put in the work at the start of the project and get it out of the way, it will help you a lot in maintaining your portfolio and then you can implement the same steps in other projects you do.

Let us know what kinds of things you do to maintain a theme within your portfolio and if you have any questions or ideas for future posts then write a comment below or get in touch on our Instagram.

The Beginner’s Guide to Site Analysis

The Beginner’s Guide to Site Analysis

A site analysis is needed to understand the environment around your building. The site is quite important in regard to the physical constraints of the project and can also inspire the programme of the building. Apart from this, it helps you actually draw up plans, sections and create views of your building as it would be once completed.

Before diving into the design of the project, you need some sort of base to go off on. There are several steps to take to thoroughly complete a site analysis. In some projects, the site itself can become a huge driver and there really isn’t another way to carry on by ignoring the surroundings.

This guide will explore the variety of things you can do to research a site ranging from its history, current condition and other things you might not find just by looking at it on Google Maps or even by visiting the area once.

In your first year of university, you’re thrown into the deep end and sometimes you might not get the help you really need. Your tutors could simply say ‘do a site analysis’ and leave it at that. So, we’ve broken it down in simple steps and even given some examples of presenting your work.

  1. Desktop Study
  2. Digimap
  3. Planning Documents
  4. Sun Path
  5. What to look for
  6. Physical Visit
  7. Presentation and Examples
  8. Final Tips

For those more familiar with a site analysis, this article might just show you some ways of enhancing your site analysis or introduce you to some better tools and tips that can make your work better. We’ve also included some links to other works and online tools so make sure you read till the end.

Desktop Study

A desktop study is pretty obvious. This doesn’t just mean finding your site on Google Maps. A desktop study will also involve researching the site deeply. If the history of that place has meaning to your project, chances are you can find out what once used to be at that site. It could also involve establishing the surroundings of your site and looking at what kinds of places are in the neighbourhood.

To start, if you haven’t already chosen a site, choose one. Most briefs might give you a generic location or neighbourhood and then you can physically find an empty site or choose a space to hypothetically build over and replace. It is good to have a street address which you should note down in your sketchbook to refer back to later on.

Then, open up Google Maps, find your site and use the walk-around feature to get an idea of the surroundings. Look at it from all angles and the satellite maps. You could even make a rough sketch if you wanted and write down some of the things that stick out to you. Now, we’re going to use a bunch of different tools online to keep going with a desktop study.


digimap is your best friend

Digimap is an Ordnance Survey map that has data on pretty much the whole world. Don’t worry though, you only need it for your site. There are several things you can do with Digimap such as downloading scaled plans and building heights. This allows your final drawings to be as accurate as possible. Most universities (at least in the U.K.) will give students access to such OS maps so make sure you take full advantage.

If you’re not too familiar with Digimap, check out our ‘How To Make Maps in Adobe Illustrator’ article which breaks it down further.

Digimap is great for site research because it provides a lot more information about an area than Google Maps. You can check historical maps of your site or get accurate data on building heights.

The way this fits into site research is that you will need to create some kind of output that combines the research you have done and explains how you want to take the project further. Via Digimap, you can print unlimited scaled maps, annotate them and use them to make models for example so the possibilities are endless. Overall, it is a great and easy-to-learn tool.

Planning Documents

Planning documents are the unheard gem we found whilst in architecture school. Not many people knew about it and the ones who did kept it a secret. This is a big advantage especially if you’re in the U.K because most countries will have something similar so try and find out by doing a simple Google search.

Planning documents in simple terms are the copies of plans, drawing statement and other documents that architects have to submit to the council in order to get approved and then proceed to continuing with the project. If your site has some kind of history, if there have been any changes, it will be on there.

The main difference between planning documents and Digimap for example, is that sometimes some sites will have gone through a lot of changes and architects that were hired should ideally have submitted plans, sections and elevations which you can use to gain information mostly about the surrounding buildings.

Not only does this save you from figuring out how the neighbouring building works but it also gives small details that you might not have known by just a visit.

The way to find your site on a planning portal is simple. Figure out which borough the address lands in and Google that specific planning portal. Some addresses may count as boroughs that you didn’t think of, so if you don’t find the exact area, try another one. Ideally, having an address or postcode for your chosen site is key. By constantly figuring out the pieces of the puzzle that is your site, you get more familiar with it and somehow end up more motivated to design a building that excites you.

Here we’ve listed an example to show you there are several links that get you closer to the files you need. Remember, there are different portals for each borough but they all work relatively the same.

click on view or comment on a planning application
make sure you search via address, the minimum you need is the street name
click on the application number link
scroll all the way down to find related documents
click on the date links to open the drawings
the drawings open in PDF

That is the gist of finding drawings through a planning portal. Sometimes there may be nothing for your chosen site, in which case you can try the neighbouring buildings. So that you don’t have to keep finding the same drawings over and over, save these in a folder offline (on your computer) so that you can look back on them for reference or printing.

Sun Path

A good form of output that involves the site is to create a sun path diagram. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a map of your site that shows the orientation of the sun, the building and other opportunities and constraints that are involved in your site. This allows you to get a better idea of how you want to design your building, how it will link back to the programme or even some of the constraints you need to look out for.

We will create an in-depth tutorial on how to create a simple sun-path diagram in the coming weeks so look out for that. It will show you how to find your site and the exact sun-path over your site plus a group of other additions to enhance the diagram.

This page in your portfolio should be seen almost as a basic minimum. You can find plenty of inspiration on other architecture blogs or Pinterest. Check out our Pinterest board for Sun Path Diagrams HERE.

What to Look For

Ideally, there are certain things you need to research about or look for when doing a site research. This does depend on the brief you have been given and the direction you are taking it in yourself. For example, if you are focused on the heritage of the local community or their trades etc. you might want to research a bit more into the history of the area and your selected site. Look at what was there 50 years ago and ask yourself, is there a way I can bring this back in a new way that adds to the present community? Or perhaps find a problem in the current area such as a lack of communal spaces for the youth and try and solve this in a way that can relate to your brief.

We’ve made a generic list of things to look out for which can be done by a desktop or physical study. Figuring this out will add to your knowledge of your site which in turn, will make your building an actual possibility which is good practice.

  • Site area in square feet or some kind of dimension that works for you
  • Building heights of surrounding buildings
  • Neighbourhood i.e. businesses, residential, nature
  • Site access
  • Windows / Doors that cannot be built in front of
  • Any future plans for the site (use the planning portal)
  • Transport; roads, alleyways, bus, train etc.
  • Nature around the site, such as trees, slopes, anything that wouldn’t show up on Digimap or Google Maps
  • How busy the site is; footfall, how the site is used or changed over time, vehicular movements
  • The weather/climateSite of the site
  • Community profile such as popular ethnicity, social backgrounds, trades, ages etc.

Of course, this isn’t a compulsory list, but the more information you have, the better. Also remember that you shouldn’t try and cram all this into one page. We recommend dedicating an entire section of your portfolio to site analysis which happens over a few pages.

Look out for our free checklist at the end of this article to help you organise your site analysis.

Physical Visit


If you’re lucky enough to have adequate access to your site then it makes it easier for you to re-visit the site as needed (which you will do). If not, then you will have to try and visit your site and make it worthwhile. Firstly, make sure you take your camera, a small sketchbook and pen and your phone. These are the basics.

Take pictures of your site in all kinds of angles and perspectives. It doesn’t hurt to take as many as possible, and you will most likely get home and sort through them all anyway. These pictures will be useful to capture the essence of the area as well as your site. If you can, come back after a couple of hours or at a completely contrasting time of day to understand how the site works overtime.

For example, a site near a farmer’s market will most likely be busier than at night when shops and business are closed around it. Light, climate or even people can make a huge difference to your project and you might not know it at such an early stage.

Ideally, you don’t want to be spending weeks on your site analysis, so once you have decided or been given your site, mark a day you will go and explore. Take your friends with you or plan something else on that day.

Once you have found that something you want to focus on in your project, you can then go back for a second visit and look out for the things you’re interested in. Change your approach and perhaps sketch out something you didn’t see last time. Having more than one visit means you can see things you missed last time or even compare how the site may have changed since your last visit.

A physical study will allow you to create collages or have photographic evidence that supports your statements about the community or the cultural aspects. Speak to the local business owners or active residents to learn more about the area. This first-hand approach will show that you have an interest in the community and let you figure out what it may need architecturally.

Presentation and Examples

As we said before, you need to create a form of output for your research. A section of your portfolio that sets up the site as well as your project is great to begin with if your unit doesn’t do a short, initial project. Depending on what you want to show, it can vary for each project.

The smaller details such as styles, fonts and layout will be discussed later on in another post. For now, we’re going to show you how the site analysis should fit within your portfolio and how your site analysis needs to relate back to the brief.

Usually, 5-10 well curated pages of site analysis is enough. We’ve listed below some of the kinds of pages you might want to create:

  • An overall map of the area marked with landmarks and your site
  • An annotated map of your site visit including photographs and other information
  • Photographs or study related to your interests in the site
  • Sun path diagram
  • Opportunities and constraints
  • Key drivers
Project 1

Sana Tabassum          pages 16-24

In this project, Vietnamese Modular Community, the site analysis comes after a short animation project. There are 3 maps that get more detailed one after the other. The first map simple shows the overall site, it’s general facts and figures. Then the next two maps focus on a certain area or street in Shoreditch that extrapolate the interesting features. In this case, the abundance of ventilation hardware combined with the local Vietnamese community raised an area for improvement.

Then, the site is modelled to show this exact situation and the building is further analysed through a section drawing. This means it is possible to show how the site is being used currently at the various problems it proposes to the community around it.

Next, an opportunities and constraints diagram can show the various transport links around the chosen site as well as the kind of community that live there – specifically, immigrants who might be adjusting their domestic space to be comfortable for them. This was purposely similar to how people live in Vietnam.

Finally, a sun-path diagram shows exactly what is says. The sun path over the proposed site as well as neighbouring building heights. The next project is also similar in many ways.

Project 2

Nathalie Harris         pages 8-22

Instagram: @natzarina

Another great example of an in-depth site analysis is Nathalie’s project Inhabited Infrastructures in the Anthropocene. If we focus on the site analysis pages, linked above, then you can see the journey taken in these pages. Her site analysis starts off with a map/collage of Shoreditch. Then, she goes deeper in a specific area and compares the site with scenes from a movie which relates back to the initial task.

After desktop studies and further research, we can see the project starts leaning towards recycling and specifically the routes of recycling trucks in Shoreditch. She creates a map of the routes, links to articles and analyses certain elements that seem interesting via 3D modelling.

Initial site map

Then, the project explains the chosen site, its dimensions and surrounding images. Modelling the site in not much detail and then annotating it according to surrounding buildings or sun-path can also be great. Tracking where photographs are taken, or the historic journey of the site can further add to the reasoning behind the programme of the project.

Lastly, the section ends with key drivers that have been identified along with images to not just inform the reader or examiner but actually be able to refer back to later on in the project.

These projects are for example purposes but can provide some inspiration to your work. You can even ask other students in the year’s above to see their old portfolios to learn from them and understand why they did what they did.

Final Tips

While working on your site analysis, make sure to keep other ideas regarding your project in the back of your mind such as the programme, why you want to design this building and how all these things relate back to your site or are inspired by it. We hope the various approaches help you learn something new or find a new way to work on your site analysis.

We think this is a crucial part of your project and sets you up for success. In the coming weeks we will also touch on portfolio layout and organisation and why it’s best to have a theme or style from the beginning as well as creating your pages as you work on things throughout the year rather than trying to compile it at the end.

Having other forms of work such as models or even other outputs like animations, paintings and 3D modelling can also be great to feature in your site analysis. If you know you’re going to be working predominantly with 3D modelling software towards the end of your project, it could be a good idea to start modelling your site from the beginning. Digimap offers a rough 3D model of the majority of London so try check that out and make sure it’s accurate.

Again, you don’t need all of the things mentioned, so make sure you curate it to your interests with the project and not try and put everything you’ve ever learnt about the site in your portfolio because after all, it needs to be edited well. And don’t limit yourself to the things we’ve suggested either.

We’ve included a short checklist you can download whilst working on your site analysis. Just save the image or click the link below.


Lastly, we hope this article helped you in some way. If you have any questions or additions then make sure to leave a comment below or tell us directly on Facebook or Instagram @to.scale.

How to Create Maps

How to Create Maps in Adobe Illustrator (For Architecture Students)

We’ve all struggled with creating maps at some point in time. This article will show you the exact tools, skills and process of creating simple vector maps in Adobe Illustrator. These methods can be used with other software or even by hand (if you’re going for that effect) and are fully customisable.

At the start of any project, you’re either given a site or offered to choose on for yourself. The site and its surroundings are an extremely important feature of the project and can affect the overall design of the building. The process for creating maps isn’t too long and once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier each time.

Look out for more resources and examples of maps we love at the end. Your map doesn’t need to be in the exact style we show you and can be as detailed or minimal as you wish.

  1. Scales and Measurements
  2. Tools
  3. The Process
  4. Tips
  5. Resources

Scales and Measurements

For architects, scale becomes an industry standard. Being able to understand this language and training your eye to figure out the size of an area on a large scale is a key skill. Maps especially should be :scale. But how can you figure out what the best option is?

We believe there are 3 important factors when deciding the scale of a map you want to create and eventually present.

  1. The size of your page
  2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show
  3. The size of your site in relation to the page


The tools used when creating a map are just as important as the thought process behind it. It is essential that you use good quality maps or images because you don’t want your work coming across as something put together in five minutes. Maps will undoubtedly be featured towards the start of your portfolio, so presentation is key because it builds an impression.

For most architecture students across the UK, there will be a large collection of resources available to you through your university, and most of the time some websites allow for university logins so that you can access materials for free.

We love using Digimap to create maps, site plans etc.

Digimap – a number one resource

Digimap is an Ordnance Survey mapping website and has quite a bit of interesting features but mainly it lets you look at and download maps from all over the UK.

A great feature of Digimap is that it allows you to download maps in common formats such as .PDF but also AutoCAD.

Once you’re logged in, you can use the ‘Roam’ feature to start tracking down your site.

Use the Roam or Download function

Google Maps

By this point, you would have either visited your site in person or seen it through Google Maps. It’s great for getting a sense of the site without actually having to be there, but also to access or view areas you physically cannot.

As long as you have an address or a general idea of where your site is, you can view this as a satellite image, in a simple map format or by using the street views.

Google Maps

The quality of Google Maps isn’t extraordinary but if you did want to use a satellite image as a plan view, we’d recommend downloading Google Earth. It lets you select your area and export as a high-quality image.

This can be useful later on in the project when you have designed your building and want to place a plan view back on site as a plan or a rendered image.

 Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is the obvious choice for creating a vector map. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, visit our page about ‘Getting Started: ‘10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’.

A vector map gives a clean, minimal outcome and Illustrator is preferred over Photoshop because you can edit the exported Digimap as well as edit colours and add text easily.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use Adobe Photoshop, or other drawing software to create your maps. If you want to see an alternative method, tell us in the comments after this article. You could hand-draw and scan in your map and edit it further using these software and it would still work fine.

The Process

By now, you must want to get stuck in and create your map. For this map, we’ll be looking at Shoreditch and using a random building as our ‘site’. In your project, the site might not be an occupied space, so to workaround this, either choose the neighbouring building’s address or locate your site using a unique landmark you can recognise.

The first thing you want to do is get logged into Digimap and find Shoreditch. Our chosen building for this exercise is:

Soho Works Shoreditch

Or you can enter the postcode: E1 6JJ (you should write your site’s address down somewhere so you can easily access it without having to try find it each time).

After entering the Ordnance Survey Roam tool and entering the postcode this is what your screen should look like.

find your site using a postcode

Now we can zoom in or out and change the type of map displayed to us by clicking on Basemaps and choosing Line Drawing.

zoom in a bit further to get these options

This gives us a clean image with our site at the centre. Now we’re going to export this map. But before we do this we need to set the 3 parameters we mentioned earlier.

  1. The size of your page

For the start of a project, we think A2 (portrait) is fine but if you choose A1 or landscape, you can easily change this in the next steps.

2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show

We want to show the majority of Shoreditch, at least its recognisable landmarks and have our site somewhere in the centre.

3. The size of your site in relation to the page

At this stage, we don’t need the site to be large because this map is focusing more on the surroundings and general area.

To export the map, you need to click on the printer icon at the top of the screen. We aren’t actually printing it yet but setting it up as a page.

the print button

Now you’re faced with the print options. You need to enter this information according to your parameters. On the right-hand side you can view what your page will roughly look like.

enter in the options

Details for this map –

Map Title: Shoreditch Map 1

Print Scale: 1000

Print Format: PDF

Page Size: A2

Print Layout: Portrait

*Uncheck Add my Name

scale 1:1000

Then, click Generate Print File and save to a location of your choosing.

Now, we’re going to open Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place and place the PDF on an A2 portrait page*.

*This is important, the size of your artboard in Illustrator should match that of the map you downloaded to make sure the scale is correct.

place your PDF in Illustrator

After placing your PDF map make sure to save your file by going to File > Save As.

Now click on the Embed button in the top toolbar. This lets you edit the contents using the Selection Tool (V) and Direct Selection Tool (A).

that maps looks a bit cluttered

For a clean, simple vector map, we need to get rid of the extra information such as street names and legends. (If doing this in AutoCAD, you could download the .dwg file and turn off these extras as they will be on separate layers.)

To do this, you can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and hover over extra information such as the watermark and directly delete it. To help things move along faster, zoom in and using the Direct Selection Tool (A) click on one of the texts or letters.

using the select feature

Next, go to Select > Same > Appearance. This selects everything on the page that is similar. If at any point, it selects the building lines we want to keep, try one of the other options or do this manually.

and voila!

Sometimes there may be a leftover outline that isn’t visible so be sure to do the same and select all and delete using the Delete key. Now we can repeat the same for other texts and shapes we don’t need.

Sometimes we can run into the problem of expanding the map beyond the visible borders. This can happen when trying to get rid of the outlines or the legend at the bottom.

To fix this, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag across one edge of the page till the area where you want the map to stop.

deleting extra bits

Don’t be worried if this takes a long time, Illustrator is processing all of the detailed information. Sometimes you just need to wait it out and be patient, so don’t start clicking everywhere because it will just make the process longer.

After some clean up, you should end up with a result like this. For the purpose of the tutorial, we’ve set the stroke weight to 2pt, but it can be whichever is best visible at the moment according to you.

clean image

Next, using the Selection Tool (V) we are going to make the entire stroke colour Black. Select the map and then double-click on the stroke square and select Black.

change the stroke colour

*Remember to save your work as you go, there’s nothing worse than repeating these steps in case of a crash.

Now, we’re going to use the Live Paint Tool. If you haven’t used this before, read our ‘Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’ to understand the basics.

Click on the map using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Choose Black as your fill colour and click on the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is usually under the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M).

Now you can go in and fill in the buildings with the Black fill colour. To not get confused, fill your site – or in this case – the building, with another colour so you don’t lose it. You can click and drag to cover more areas but try not to fill in any pavements or railway lines.

fill in the map, don’t forget to identify your site

Make sure to expand the Live Paint once you’re done by going to Object > Live Paint > Expand or by clicking the Expand button.

Now, we can either turn off the stroke colour or set it as white depending on your preference. Here are both. The level of detail is completely up to you and you can play around with colours or even gradients if you want.

no strokes vector map
white strokes vector map

And there you’ve got a simple vector map. But it still needs some extra bits and resources. For example, these maps have different colours to associate with different parts of the site or even additional photos and keys. Don’t go crazy and make a rainbow coloured map, try and keep it as simple and clean as possible.

examples of maps


Make sure you use layers in Illustrator so that your map is not affected directly. It’s totally up to you how much information you want to add depending on what you want to show through the map.

Try not to overload too much information as this can make the map seem unappealing. Adding photographs, annotation and other information is fine but realistically the examiner won’t have time to read a long paragraph.

Remember to add the scale of the map at the bottom of the page as well as a north symbol. You can make this quite simply or find an image online.


We’ve created a template to help you organise your map and not forget any key information. It contains a template for A2 and A1 pages as well as our own North symbol.

To download the template simple click below and open in Adobe Illustrator. Then make sure to copy it over to your map file or overwrite the template and save as a new file.


Creating vector maps becomes easier with online resources. In case you can’t use Digimap, here is an alternative as well as other website links.



Pinterest is great for looking for inspiration and styles. Find one that suits you and try to create one in your own style. Follow us on Pinterest too!


Let us know how it went and whether you did anything differently. We’re always looking for the most efficient way to create architectural drawings. If you have any questions leave a comment below!