“What are these plastic triangles, and why do you have so many?” I asked my boss one-day while cleaning out a filing cabinet. He said they were 45° or 30°/60° triangles used for drawing. I immediately flashed back to my high school geometry class – yuck! But seeing those rulers got me thinking… what other special tools do architects use? I found a blog by Bob Borson to get some more information on the topic.
The first thing on Borson’s list: A big ass desk. “While you don’t need to have a big desk, it sure helps,” he writes. Here at Architect Larry LaDelfa, we definitely have big desks – actually we have 3 big desks, and a couple small ones up in the loft. Space to work is essential, in any profession, but especially in architecture. Most days my desk is clean. But on filing days, the surface is lost in a sea of papers and file folders. Larry’s desk is usually in disarray – project drawings, invoices, check books, and pens/tools scattered here and there. But hey, he is an architect! And a very busy architect at that, so he can have a messy desk. He hired me to help clean, organize, and file – so lately the office has been looking spick and span!
Number 2 on Borson’s list is tracing paper. “At any given moment in time, I have 10+ rolls of tracing paper in my office,” he writes. “I use this semi-transparent paper daily and can’t imagine doing my job without having some on hand.” I also found a roll of this tracing paper this morning while cleaning out a filing cabinet. It was my first time seeing it in the office – but I knew what it was right away. Larry does not use this much, at least not that I have noticed. All of the drawing is done on the computer! He got nostalgic on me after I showed it to him, pointing out the unused desk and the bar that held the paper in place. I could tell from the dust that it hadn’t been used in a while. Apparently the paper has several nicknames: onionskin, bumwad and trash paper, to name a few.
Next up: architectural and engineering scales. An architect’s scale is a specialized ruler designed to facilitate the drafting and measuring of architectural drawings, such as floor plans. An engineering scale is used in making blue prints in a specific scale. It is commonly made of plastic and is just over 12 inches long, but with only 12 inches of markings, leaving the ends unmarked so that the first and last measuring ticks do not wear off. “I don’t need this many and I can’t really explain why I have so many other than they secretly get together at night and reproduce (architectural scale + engineering scale = metric scale… I think),” he writes. I have one of these on my desk. I thought it was just a fancy ruler… well I guess it kind of is just a fancy ruler. I love how many new things I learn on a daily basis here!
The next tool on Borson’s list is his camera – a Nikon D90. “I love my camera and use it all the time,” he writes. “I’m pretty sure that the partners in my firm consider it the office camera since it gets used to take most of our project photos.” Larry also has a camera, but it is currently at home. He loves photography so it goes home with him a lot.
What other tools could an architect possibly need? Well we aren’t even half way through the list yet, so obviously a lot more! Next up are the tape measure, clipboard and a Fluke 416D Distance Meter. “We measure a lot of houses in the course of doing our jobs – even if we get architectural plans of the project we are going to work on, we verify everything,” Borson writes. “Having an assortment of measuring devices on hand makes the job go a lot smoother.” I have noticed a collection of tape measurers laying around the office. I even got to help measure one day on site! Larry has a snazzy clipboard too – it’s made out of some fancy type of wood with his logo engraved into it. I have not seen a Fluke 416D Distance Meter yet… but maybe I just discovered the perfect Christmas gift for Larry! Thanks Bob!
Up next are Architectural Reference Manuals. “Possibly the most boring thing on the list, but an important part of the process,” he writes. “Between code books, City requirement development code books, framing manuals, flashing guideline (SMACNA) manuals, etc. – half of the books on the shelf in my office are technical in nature.” The back wall of our office could be mistaken as a library. Larry has been in this business for 39 years – and he has definitely accumulated a book/manual collection to prove it.
Now here is something I can totally understand – a Measure Master 5 Calculator. As I have stated before, I hate math – mostly because I am not good at math. “I use mine all the time to add up dimensions,” he writes. “I used to do that sort of thing in my head, but once I realized that making a simple addition or subtraction mistake could cost a lot of money to fix, I don’t do it anymore.” Larry also uses a calculator when adding up dimensions. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
We are finally half way through the list. I bet you didn’t think an architect needed so many tools! I didn’t either! The next item is pretty obvious – pens! “Architects are nothing if not particular about the pens they use… and I am no exception,” Borson writes. “With the exception of two duplicated, I use each sort of pen shown here for a specific purpose.” The photo shows 8 different types of pens/pencils. Only a week into working for an architect, I noticed that many architects use the Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine pen (in black and red). That is the specific pen that is used in our office, and I see it in Borson’s photo as well.
Next up on the list is a smart phone. “This phone has changed how I go about doing my job and I am always amazed by architects I see who are proud as they announce that they don’t use a smart phone… and that makes you sort of a dumb-ass (pardon my language),” he writes, matter-of-factly. “It is a handy, convenient, and powerful tool.” I whole-heartedly agree with everything Borson writes. Having a smart phone is just a smart move in today’s business world. It is the equivalent to having a computer, in your back pocket. You can use it for marketing, social media, email, a calendar, a calculator… the list is endless!
The next one isn’t really a tool specifically used in architecture – but it is a common item you will see at an architecture firm – headphones. “When I was in a communal work space, headphones allowed everyone to find their own “zone” and get down to some serious production,” he writes. “I listen to a lot of music while I work, but I don’t actually hear it very often, it just becomes white noise.” I am the designated music player most days at the office. I put on Pandora first thing every morning, but keep it at a reasonable volume. Besides, my music selection is so awesome that headphones are not necessary around here.
The next architectural tool is tape dots (aka drafting dots). Drafting dots are self-adhesive and firmly hold drawings, fine art, and blueprints in place while you work. They are easy to dispense and repositionable, and come in a convenient pull-tab box. “What can I say… I love drafting dots,” he writes. “When I was in college and barely had enough money to buy an egg roll, I used a roll of masking tape to hold down my drawings. Now that I make enough money to eat all the egg rolls I want, I splurge and get drafting dots.” This is another item I have not seen at all in our office. But, again, all of the drawings are done on the computer, so these are not necessary (for our firm) anymore. I am intrigued by them, however, and hope to come across a box one day. The look like flimsy poker chips!
Up next is a cordless mouse. “If you work on the computer all day and you still have a cord attaching your mouse to your computer… well, to put it nicely – you are a caveman,” Borson exclaims. Hey – to each his own! Maybe some architects like to have the cord to save money in battery cost. Or maybe that is just what they like! Either way, one this is for sure: in today’s world of architecture, a mouse is a must!
Another useful tool for architects are magazines. “Getting to take a look at the work of others, new products, techniques, and technologies is a productive way to spend 30 minutes a day,” he writes. Larry has several magazine subscriptions. I agree with Borson – they are a great tool for inspiration and education too!
The last tools on the list are toys… wait, what? I will let Borson explain this one: “Lastly are the toys – things that serve no purpose than as diversion follies whose singular role is to keep your brain creatively locking up. In my office I have Lego’s, basswood fish, robotic bugs, etc., and etc., and Cubebot. Cubebot was a white elephant gift at the company Christmas party – except I bought it and Scott Taylor in my office ended up with it. I used to steal Cubebot and put him in “compromising” positions, but it drove Scott crazy so I went out and got my own.” I do not see any toys in this office, but Larry does have a large amount of art hanging on the walls.
After reading this blog post, Larry pulled out a clunky electronic, that looked like a mix between a hair dryer and a drill. It was an electric eraser! Arthur Dremel of Racine, Wisconsin invented the electric eraser in 1932. It uses a replaceable cylinder of eraser material held by a chuck driven on the axis of a motor. The speed of rotation allows less pressure to be used, which minimized paper damage.
Even as long as that list is, there are still more tools out there that every architect needs! And every person is unique, so they won’t always use the same tools. What tools do you use that Borson didn’t mention?