Architectural Redlines During Design

Architectural Hazing through Redlines

Nothing makes people lose their minds faster than whenever I post a sketch … you would think that contained somewhere within this sketch is the nuclear launch codes and because of my frivolous lack of attention, I’ve just put the world on a collision course with Armageddon.

Relax everyone … if I don’t call out a vapor retarder everything will still be okay.

There are a handful of people who know exactly what I’m talking about because they’ll leave comments like:

“Oh no … here we go again”


“Bob take the day off and let Facebook do your redlines”


“When will you learn you can’t post these?”

Apparently, I am a slow learner.

Creating Architectural Redlines - Design Comments from Instagram

While I have become accustomed to people who only know 1/10,000th of the story feeling the need to tell me all the things I’ve screwed up, but even I was a little shocked at the response I received when I published the image above. Sure, there were the typical sorts of comments that I expected to see, but what surprised me was how the note “Wow … terrible” was perceived and the context in which it was taken.

Not one single person interpreted my comment correctly … zero. It was assumed that this particular comment was directed at the person who drew this elevation, that they had done a terrible job … that my comment was an indictment of the individual and not the actual design. Many of the comments where chastizing me for providing worthless and demoralizing feedback that would accomplish nothing other than making the person who drew this elevation feel bad.

And those people could not have been more wrong. Wronger.

As most people who read this website know, I have a small office and I sit within 3 or 4 long strides of everyone. We are close in proximity to be sure but I’d like to think that we are also close to one another as individuals. The specific person who drew this sits next to me and we were reviewing this drawing together when I wrote my comment. I was not sitting in my ivory tower casting redline dispersions down upon the masses. Out of 72 total comments, not one person interpreted this comment as an indictment of the current design.

So let us take a look at the rest of the redlines, shall we?

Creating Architectural Redlines - Design Comments 01

This project is still in design development and the design of the interiors has just begun. These are not construction drawing redlines but design concept redlines. In my office, I redline drawings through the entire creative process, not just at the end when we are compiling technical drawings to convey size, shape, quantity and the manner of assembly. I do this because I want everyone working on this project to have some ownership of the entire process – to learn that everything matters and that their contributions do not start when pencils are put down and computers are turned on. The image above shows the rest of the “red ink” dialog where that particular drawing is concerned.

That is a terrible elevation to be sure, but not because someone drew it poorly, it’s because we needed to spend the time to actually design it. I saw that elevation, with its depressing blankness and lack of scale, populated only by a program fulfilling bank of lockers, and realized that we had an opportunity to do something more.

I realize that the word “redlines” has a certain connotation in this industry that aligns with the reaction I received. My friend and fellow architect Lee Calisti defines redlines in the following manner:

The phrase “red lines” or “red-lining” is an architectural idiom or might I say slang term for the process where architects make editorial notes on a set of drawings, generally construction drawings, with the understanding that a lesser experienced staff member will make those revisions to the actual drawings.

On my own site, in a post I wrote two years ago, not-so-cleverly titled “Architectural Redlines“, I described them like this:

“Redlines” is the word used in an architectural office to reference the red ink that is typically used to mark up corrections that need to be made on architectural drawings. The red seems to be important as I have heard all sorts of variations along the lines of “I’m going to bleed all over these drawings” or “these drawings are so bad, I’m going to make them bleed”. Hmmm. That’s never been my attitude towards redlines, I just think the red is easier to see than black or blue marks.

I suppose what really set me off, and if I’m being completely open, what depressed me, is that the reaction this particular comment elicited was reminiscent of architectural hazing. When I hit “publish”, this will become the 843rd post I’ve written for Life of an Architect – a site that I would have thought by now had demonstrated that I am fairly dedicated to education and collaboration. But architectural hazing is a very real part of this profession … the idea of passing along a certain amount of suffering or “paying your dues” simply because that was the way it was for this generation of architects so that’s the way it’ll be for the next generation of architects.

Redlines should be seen as a teaching device and not one to humiliate or shame others in a misguided attempt at getting the best effort of others. I talk through my drawings – whether it be to myself or to others. In a post titled “Your Sketches Speak for Themselves” I said the following:

You can see that I write notes like I am talking through the process with myself; I even ask myself questions. Can’t tell if that’s odd or not but I still do it all the time.

That post was actually published on my birthday, April 16, 2010, when this site was only 4 months old and I have been sketching the exact same way for a more than 2 decades now, and part of my process involves writing notes and commentary on my drawings that capture what I’m thinking and the questions that I have regarding the drawings I am working on. It is completely reasonable and within my character to write a comment on an elevation that I thought was lacking, but it is not within my character to take the time to redline a drawing and assassinate the character of the person who drafted it.

I didn’t write this post so that the person in my office who drew this elevation would feel better – they know how I feel about them and their abilities. I wanted to write this post so that I could go on record that architects need to do a better job at building their younger counterparts up while educating them on the intricacies of being a practicing architect. There should be more transparency and sharing within our profession and I’d like to think that I’m doing my part, but I can do better. I think we should all try to do better.


Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect