Launch Slideshow

The New Heavy

The New Heavy

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This year sees the publication of a new, improved Architectural Graphic Standards. The 11th edition of the professional's mainstay appears on the 75th anniversary of the first, originally compiled by the indefatigable Charles Ramsey and Harold Sleeper. Since Ramsey and Sleeper's last edition in 1956, the book has grown with rapidly evolving technologies, and the sporadic publishing pace of its early years has kept pace with the changes.

Randy Chapple, an associate principal with Goettsch Partners, is still waiting for his copy of the 11th edition to arrive. It's obviously needed, as all three of his office's copies of earlier editions were recently checked out from the Chicago-based firm's library. Chapple refers to Architectural Graphic Standards several times a year, and while he finds the internet to be a valuable tool, he still prefers the physicality of an actual book. “It is easier for me to comprehend printed information than what I read on a screen,” he says.

Duane Sohl at Destefano+Partners is another professional who's yet to acquire the new book, but he recalls inheriting his first copy—the second edition—from his grandfather when he was 10 years old. “It's evolved from an illustrated guide to more of a desktop reference,” he notes. Which is definitely what I discovered when I cracked open the latest tome's thick covers.

Examining the book and speaking with representatives from more than a dozen offices throughout the country has revealed the skinny on the fat new book in the office. Here's a list of the top reasons to buy the book as well as the top reasons to consider a deferred purchase; a couple of charts help track the history of this industry standard reference and compare it with another perennial favorite.

Reasons To Buy (Or Not Buy) The New Architectural Graphic Standards

PRO With an all-new graphic design by Bruce Mau Design, the tech geek's reference of choice now aspires to be as sexy as Rem Koolhaas' S, M, L, XL, which Mau also designed (see comparison, page 69). Mau credits the Plan of St. Gall, the famed master plan of a never-built early ninth century Swiss monastery, as inspiration for the underlying grid of squares that controls the layout of images and text (no, really).

CON Despite the tome's signiffcant heft and metal plate, it took a single fall off my desk to break the binding and severely dent the initially attractive tombstone.

CON Since it uses the new UniFormat classification system for building assembly details, you'll be as confused using the book during the early phases of design as your contractor will be reading your reorganized construction specifications. The previously essential 16-division organization by construction materials now sports some 50 sections that cherry-pick items from the old list and introduce many new areas that place specified items within particular building assemblies.

PRO & CON Ribbon markers add to the book's biblical appeal, but with only three of them, you're still likely to be pasting its pages with Post-it notes.

PRO & CON All 8,500 details are now available on CD-ROM in importable CAD formats (for an additional $375 on top of the $250 book-only cover price), but unlike the earliest edition, which featured magnificent hand-drawn images, the new graphics are often anemic in their rendering. Proper line weights are clearly a lost art.

PRO Case studies—ranging from a skate park to law offices to an airport—are interspersed throughout the volume and occasionally perk up the text.

CON But the selection of case studies can seem gratuitous and the text less than illuminating. Oddly, graphics are lacking as well—although arguably you can troll the other portions of the book for these. Better to stick to the pages of ARCHITECT.

PRO The newest sections, collected at the back of the book, are the ones most likely to see significant expansion in the next edition. The inclusion of individual chapters on universal design, sustainable design, a variety of digital resources, and architectural research indicates the growing importance of these issues within the profession. The work shown in Architectural Graphic Standards may not be the last word on these issues, but it's certainly a good start toward getting critical information into the hands of all practitioners.

CON Typeface is miniscule throughout, so despite the voluminous chapters of information—just in case you have to know how a bidet works—you'll have to rely on the eagle-eyed younger members of your office staff to help. Perhaps the 12th edition will come with a magnifying glass, like the “compact” edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

CON Many architects may skip the investment. “No one feels comfortable going on record about the 11th edition,” says a notable New York office. Asked for further explanation, they admit, “We haven't got it yet!” And apparently smaller offices really aren't in a hurry to upgrade. “The books are just too damn expensive for a small office,” noted one Chicagobased sole practitioner.

CON The times, they are a-changin'. OWP/P principal and technical director Geoff rey Walters recalls not having the financial resources to purchase Architectural Graphic Standards when he finished school three decades ago, but today he's lacking the 11th edition for different reasons. “I do a lot of research on the internet or other technical sources and only occasionally find myself looking for a copy of Graphic Standards,” he explains. “I'm not even sure if I've seen the 10th [edition].”

CON There's not so much that's standard in the profession anymore. While Perkins+Will's Bruce Toman considers Architectural Graphic Standards to be a fine reference and expects to eventually order the latest edition for the office, “We prefer to set the standards ourselves,” he says.

The Verdict

For three quarters of a century, Architectural Graphic Standards has been just that—the standard. While the latest volume has its quirks, who would really want to spend countless hours with a book without some odd entries to provide amusement and entertainment along with quality information? Running out and snapping up a copy as soon as it hits the shelves of the local bookstore isn't essential, but like computer operating systems, eventually you'll probably want to have this or its successor on your own reference shelf. The profession is evolving at an ever-greater pace, but Architectural Graphic Standards is keeping up its role as the franchise player.

Edward Keegan is a Chicago architect who has written for Architecture, the Chicago Tribune, and Crain's Chicago Business.