Architects are often stereotyped for their love of black clothing, the long hours or even the obsession with modelling materials. But no one actually talks about the tools of the trade. Yes, we all know about the Rotring pencils and the T-scale, but not every architecture student or architect uses them all or sticks to typical tools.
It’s common for those starting university to get overthrown by the equipment list and some people actually end up buying it all (trust me we’re talking from experience). But whether or not these tools come into use depend on each person and their way of working. In our article ‘Starting Architecture at University’ we included a list of subject-related equipment you might need. But this list wasn’t compulsory. We actually recommend holding off on buying too much until you actually start your first day.
Sure, it can seem daunting to not have the proper tools, but it isn’t a big deal. Most universities are equipped with student stores full of a range of items and sometimes even bundle packs catered for each course. You need to think logically about what you will and won’t use. For example, a roll of tracing paper is a must. Even if you’re not into hand-drawing amazing and detailed architectural masterpieces, a roll of tracing paper is perfect for working out arrangements or sketching some rough plans.
An expensive set of mechanical pencils on the other hand, might not be the best use of your money. If you think carefully, wouldn’t you rather be spending on actual model making equipment like foamboards, MDF or general printing rather than a set of pencils that do the same job as any other ordinary pencils? Saving money at each turn is a good habit and you’ll understand why very soon. As you figure out your habits while working, you will automatically realise the tools you use often.
To give you an example, someone who prefers computer modelling and occasional sketching might not need every single type of ruler or stencil. If it’s part of an exercise in university, then sure it’s something good to have. But investing too much money will be pointless.
You might be asking yourself at this point, why do I need to know all this? We don’t want to misguide you into spending too much and we also want to let you know it’s okay to not be that person who buys and brings everything they own into university. It’s for your own good. We’re going to break down 5 tools we think any kind of architect needs. Whether you’re into computational drawings or prefer the old-school methods, these tools are important for any student.
We’ve sad this before and we’ll just say it again. If you don’t have a sketchbook, not just as an architecture student but in any sort of design degree, you’re losing organisational gold. A sketchbook can be the place to go when you need to write down small pieces of important information or plan out your building. A sketchbook often tells a person more about the project than the actual portfolio. This is because as well as containing all the key information about your building, it shows the building blocks as well as any trials and errors you made along the way. Keeping a sketchbook should become a habit by the end of your first year. It might also be handy to keep one outside of university for general ideas and to jot down inspiring places or ideas.
You don’t need to invest too much into a sketchbook. Usually, your local print shop will have a selection of sketchbooks that won’t cost you too much. Buy one for each project. If it doesn’t last you the whole year, you can always get another one and stick them together to keep it in one place.
Like we said before, keeping a roll of tracing paper with you is essential. Have it with you during tutorials, after crits and basically any other time you’re doing work. It doesn’t need to be just for drawing plans and sections. You can plan out drawings or sketch things out to see if it works. Just make sure not to lose them. Dedicate a folder where you can keep the important ones.
Making a habit of keeping tracing paper with you at all times is a good practice. When you enter the professional world, you will find yourself having to think on the spot and for that you need somewhere to let your ideas flow well. Every architect will tell you how important of a tool it is.
Decent set of pencils and pens
Again, investing in a really amazing (and expensive) set of pencils or fine-tip pens should only be necessary if you are into creating hand-drawn images. For normal use, a common set should be completely fine. You also need to make sure it’s easy for you to replace them if needed. After a few months you can gauge whether you need to buy more lead or eraser refills. Consider investing in an electrical eraser or kneaded eraser to save on time.
Another good idea is to keep a couple of highlighters or coloured markers. This can help with drawing diagrams and differentiating parts of your drawing if you are explaining things to someone else. Stick to light and easy colours, atleast 3 or 4 different ones should be enough. This way, you can have a key in your mind. For example, using a light blue marker to highlight circulation in your building or using a green marker to show any greenery or vegetation.
A computer mouse is a really great tool. Nowadays, everyone owns a personal laptop. When you’re not working in university on the computers, you can work on your projects at home with ease. A computer mouse is a real lifesaver. If you can, get a wireless one by a well-known company rather than the cheaper alternatives because you want them to last and not fail you during deadlines.
For 3D modelling or editing, a computer mouse is precise and efficient. If you wanted to go a step further, you could also look into investing in a graphics tablet for digital drawing and editing. It makes producing perspective images and illustrations much easier.
USB or Hard drive
Nothing is more frustrating than losing your work or having your personal items stolen. To avoid this, make sure to keep a USB or hard drive handy. It can also be a good idea for storing model images so that it doesn’t take up all of your computer’s space. Make a note to ‘back-up’ your work onto a USB or hard drive every week or every couple of days. This way, even if you lose all your work and need to start over elsewhere, you have a base point and don’t need to start from scratch.
Don’t be cheap with this kind of technology. Investing in a good one, that has ample amount of storage can last you until after university. Ask family or friends who might have a better idea.
A bonus item we love at the moment is the Lightbook. We’re sure you’ve seen a lightbox. Usually universities keep around a handful of these. It’s what it says it is. Have you ever traced something off the computer screen and shown it off as your own drawing? A lightbox is really just that. You can easily trace plans and sections with ease and use as many layers as needed. This is a lifesaver for someone with detailed hand-drawn plans and buildings with a lot of repeated, similar levels.
The Lightbook is a collection of people and objects that you can trace to add to your drawings with ease. The best thing about it? The drawings are to scale! They’ve even got some fun well-known characters that you can sneak into your sections and elevations making your work look much neater. Plus, it saves you time on drawing out so many additional items that can take up a lot of time and stress you out during deadlines.
You can trace people on to tracing paper or your drawings directly. There are a couple of editions as well as a digital DWG version if you prefer computerised people. One thing we love about the Lightbook is that it’s completely affordable for students and we would definitely recommend it.
Have a look at their website below.
If you wanted more ideas or alternatives, have a look at our ‘How to Add People in Your Architectural Drawings’ article. We provide you with other methods of making this small but important task easier.
That concludes our list of the real tools you need for architectural drawings (and other things). We hope you make wise decisions when investing in tools for architecture. Remember, to have amazing work, you don’t need expensive equipment at all. It all depends on your skills and talents which is something to continue working on.
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