What is graphic recording?

This section will introduce you to the process of graphically recording buildings and architectural detail.

What is graphic recording?

Graphic recording aims to produce a set of drawn illustrations that provide a record of a building or a wider site at a specific point in time. This can then be viewed and used for research by other interested parties, either immediately or in the future.

A graphic record of a building or structure normally takes the form of a combination of plans, elevations and section drawings. These can be complemented by drawn details of well-preserved or unique features, and if you are an experienced draughtsperson other views such as perspective or orthographic can also be created as desired.

A great benefit of graphic recording is the process of surveying itself because the surveyor is required to spend time looking at and understanding the building. It allows the surveyor to form an idea of how a structure works, because undertaking either a sketch or a scale drawing is a subjective process requiring a good understanding of what is to be drawn. Creating a drawing – particularly a measured scaled drawing that accurately records the proportions of a building – can often help resolve issues that are not readily apparent to the eye. The principal forms that a survey drawing (or an architect’s plan) will take are as follows:


A plan drawing shows what you would see if you sliced through a building horizontally, lifted off the top part and looked down. To show the greatest amount of information in a plan the slice is usually taken just above the level of the window sills to show floor layout, position of doors, windows, fireplaces etc.

A separate plan is usually made for each storey of the building. Solid elements – such as walls – can be delineated by a thicker line that can be shaded or hatched in the drawing to emphasise different materials and/or phasing.

Location plan of Panmure House, Canongate, Edinburgh. In this monochrome drawing, the focus of the plan is shown solid black and represents the ‘L’ plan footprint of the building. Other roofed structures are shown hatched, with linear features and open spaces outlined. Scale 1:1,000

Site plans

A site plan also shows a building from above, albeit from a higher vantage point and at a smaller scale. Whilst the previously described plan might show the layout and details of a building’s interior, a site plan is produced to show a building in its wider context. It can show its setting and relationship to other buildings and structures, earlier or later in date. A site plan can show many things, for instance how buildings, structures and landscapes can constitute a design concept or how development over different eras can combine to form an architectural mosaic.

Location maps

A location map is used to show your ‘area of interest’, whether it be individual features (for example, the distribution of street furniture), single structures (for example, buildings), entire streets or open areas such as parkland. These maps should be at an appropriate scale to show the geographical location of your project and include place names and local reference points. The scale you choose will depend on the size of your project area but is unlikely to be smaller than 1:10,000 – more often this scale is used for topographic or landscape mapping – and more typically between 1:1,250 and 1:2,500. The level of detail of man-made features at these scales tends to, necessarily, be limited to outline shapes only.

Natural features can be illustrated using contours or symbols known as hachures, which are short line segments drawn in the direction of the slope (see below). Steeper slopes are represented by thicker, shorter strokes,while gentler slopes are represented by thinner, longer and farther spaced strokes. (See also the glossary)

An example of turf walled structures and slopes in a relict landscape depicted by hachures.


An elevation is a square-on view looking directly on to an upstanding structure or wall to show the position and dimension of features viewed from the outside. A rectangular detached building, for example, would need four elevations to represent it fully. A semi-detached house would need only three elevations.

Most elevations tend to show building exteriors, but in some cases it may be appropriate to draw elevations of walls in individual rooms. Elevations can also depict shadows – particularly on a façade –that can serve to emphasise textures and design elements.


A section drawing represents what you would see if you made a vertical slice through a building, removed one section and looked into the other (think about slicing a cake to reveal the contents under the icing). It allows you to show floor levels, ceiling heights and wall thicknesses within a structure. Sections are typically cut at right angles to the axes in a building. A single section will probably suffice to explain the workings and the materials used in the construction of most structures but you might need to consider more than one. Similar to plan drawings, solid elements such as walls, floors, roofs and stairs are commonly represented as shaded or hatched areas or in heavier line to distinguish them. Section lines can be indicated directly onto your plan with arrows to indicate which way the section is looking.


A profile is an outline of a form or structure seen from the side. A profile diagram is useful for emphasising mouldings of a building or showing the changes in elevation of a surface along a given line – it represents graphically a ‘skyline’.


A detail can be a drawing of a single architectural feature or a small diagram showing construction or composition. An architectural detail is a small piece of the whole; it may be something that characterises an entire building.

Profile of a city skyline