When the 11th edition of Architectural Graphic Standards (AGS) was released in 2007, drafting was already part of the architectural profession’s dinosaur past, and the efficacy of a $250 book to help guide a new era of professionals into the future was questionable. With April’s release of AGS 12th edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2016) and, more notably, its newfound companion website, Architectural Graphic Standards Online, perhaps it’s time to end the eight-decade-long run of the series of tomes that has helped define drafting culture.
Comprising 1,081 pages of densely packed graphics and text rendered in a font that is borderline too small, the latest edition is slightly shorter than its predecessor yet includes 25 percent new content, according to Wiley. But with the ability to search and download the same details in multiple, editable formats (DWG, DGN, and DXF) through the AGS website, why would anyone opt to purchase the hard copy? Yes, buying it will earn you a one-time, 30 percent discount off the website’s subscription cost of $139 per year, but you still need to shell out $250 first.
I hefted a copy of the latest book to several designers at firms in my hometown of Chicago. I summarize their reactions below.
Pinpointing exactly what’s new in the 12th edition could take years, given the sheer amount of content, but one change is clear: its overall organization. The book is divided into three sections: Design Principles & Construction Documentation, Materials, and Building Elements. This is a sensible order, directing the reader from planning, to materials, to how to put them together. But it’s completely different from the last edition, which subverted logic by placing Building Elements at the front.
Should a $250 book have a cover this dull?
Graphic designer Bruce Mau had given AGS a complete and highly touted redesign for the 11th edition based on the plan of a medieval monastery. In my review of that edition, I gave Wiley and Mau a hard time for the metal, commemorative “tombstone” inset on its cover, as it was certainly overkill. But the 12th edition’s façade, provided by Wiley’s in-house staff, is about as dull as a doorstop. We’re visual people, folks.
The book’s interior design is, once again, the work of Bruce Mau Design (with illustrations by the Magnum Group). The layout buries much of the text deep into the binding gutter where it can’t be easily read without a crowbar. Full-bleed works for imagery, but it doesn’t work for copy in a book. As for the graphics, there remains a serious lack of architectural sophistication regarding line weights. Drafting has never looked so dull and uninspiring.
Is the content in AGS still relevant?
Lynne Sorkin, AIA, a 40-something director at BKL Architecture, recently pointed architectural intern Maxim Fields to an earlier edition of AGS to research bar-seating clearances. In a completely unscientific experiment, I asked the 2015 Howard University graduate to re-create his search with the new book. Fields quickly found the relevant section on pages 846 and 847. “This is a nice book,” he says, adding that it gave information regarding seating clearances that wasn’t available in the earlier version.
Is AGS still the “Bible”?
Wiley and the AIA (the book’s author) pay marketing lip-service to its “indispensable” role, but they’ve substantially changed the order of the material from edition to edition. You don’t need to be a theological scholar to know that the re-sequencing of basic information discourages useful textual exegesis. Within each section, the material seems to have been re-sorted to better help fit things on a specific page, rather than to more clearly present the information in a comprehensive fashion. It’s an episodic approach that lacks the overall cohesion that was once a hallmark of the book—although that aspect has been on its way out for at least several editions.
Can I still use AGS as a doorstop?
Yes. As with the 11th edition, this book, while a few pages lighter, is just as serviceable as a doorstop, weighing eight pounds according to the delivery service.
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture senior architect Matt Dumich, AIA, bought his first copy of AGS as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But even the 30-something sees limited potential for the latest print edition. “We would most likely use it as part of a digital library,” he says. For the incoming generation of designers, he says, “the go-to resource is Google.”
Though a less reliable and less established resource than AGS, the search engine may seem to have vanquished the reign of this once indispensable standard. But there’s no doubt that the content in Wiley’s publication is more reliable as “standards” than what one might find via Google. In print, the 12th edition’s often incomprehensible layout seems to point to the near-inevitable demise of its own printed existence and usurpation by its own website.
In Steve Martin’s 1979 movie, The Jerk, his imbecilic character, Navin R. Johnson, runs to a van, rips a thick paperback from the driver’s hands, and starts shouting, “The new phone book’s here, the new phone book’s here!”
His next, less frequently quoted line is as funny and pertinent to the new AGS: Upon finding his name, Navin says, “I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!”
While the print version of AGS lives on, I am betting that it will go into the remainder bin sooner rather than later. The new website delivers the same, essential information in a format that’s more readily usable for today’s practitioner. If, for some reason, we begin to lament the diminishing number of AGS copies from the reference shelves of firms, we can ask ourselves this: When was the last time we used a phone book?
Note: This article has been updated since first publication to clarify that the 30 percent discount off the one-year subscription price for AGS' companion website does not carry over to subsequent years.