architectural scales

Architectural Scales – Precision in Proportion

When structures are planned, they need to be accurate and readable to anyone who needs to peruse them. This is why architectural scales exist in the first place. This article is going to examine architectural scales and what they are, while also having a look at how to read architectural scales, what architectural measurements are, and how to use an engineering scale. These concepts will be explored and discussed in easy-to-understand language for those who are interested. So, if you happen to be one of those who are interested in this, then let’s have a look at architectural scales!



A Look at Architectural Scales

The architectural scale is one of the most important of all the tools in the arsenal of the architect or architectural student. This is the term used to describe the means of planning structures to scale during the planning phase. In basic terms, a building is generally a rather large thing, and you do not want to have to use a piece of paper equivalent to the size of the building that will be constructed when planning it, and so you draw something smaller but representative of the whole.

This is where architectural scales come into play.

These scales are accurate fractions of the full size of a structure. So, if there is a massive building that you need to put onto planning documents, you may reduce every meter or inch of the building by a fraction of 5000. This means that it will be 5000 times smaller than the completed building. This allows you to put an entire set of planning onto paper while retaining the accuracy of the scale of the structure. This is an immensely important part of the general process of planning because it allows for highly accurate planning and preparation ahead of time. You need to have planning of this description to ensure that a building is not only properly planned out, but that the construction can be planned out and implemented with ease.

what are architectural scales

For instance, you need accurate plans to know the quantity of the building materials you need. How will you know how many bricks or how much steel you need if the plans are not accurate? These architectural scales also come in both metric and imperial measurements based on where you are in the world. The former is found in most countries while the latter is found in the United States, Myanmar, and Liberia. The country you reside in will determine which measurements are used for the design of structures using architectural scales.

However, we are going to go into all of these details in the sections below.



Summary of Architectural Scale

While this article is going to examine architectural scales in far more detail, we are first going to stop for a short time to instead have a look at a quick summary. This is for everyone who may not have the time to read the whole thing, or for someone who wants a basic understanding but does not want to go into much depth:

  • Architectural scales are used to accurately represent architectural plans. The purpose of the architectural scale is to serve as a means of ensuring that buildings are properly and accurately planned out, with an agreed upon architecture scale chart, so that it can be read by anyone with architectural experience.
  • Architectural scales are represented in keys on planning documents. The architectural scale of a particular building or part of a building will be found somewhere on the document in question, such as in a key or on the underside of the planning document. This is so that anyone reading the plans can have an understanding of them.
  • Architectural scales are necessary in professional architectural environments. While a building can technically be constructed without plans, this is not something that would generally be allowed in any professional setting. These architectural scales are used in all official designs.

This has been our brief summary of architectural scales and what will be explored in more detail below. However, if you do want to receive significantly more detail about architectural scales, and much of what surrounds this common practice in architecture, you can keep reading onto the next section.

architectural measurements



Architectural Measurements

This is the term that refers to the specific dimensions that are used when we plan and design structures. These measurements are those that architectural scales represent. The measurement of a particular room in a building, for instance, will have certain dimensions, and those dimensions need to be accurately represented.

During the planning phase of a structure, the architectural measurements have to be perfect because knowing the size of the different elements of a structure aids in determining how preparation for construction needs to be implemented.

The architectural measurements of a building are generally read using an architectural scale ruler while adhering to a specific architecture scale chart. This will be discussed in some more detail in the next section. However, what needs to be kept in mind is that architectural plans do not generally deviate from the specific architectural measurements that have been determined and used throughout the planning drawings for a structure.



The Architecture Scale Chart

This is the term that refers to the set types of architectural scale that can be found on a planning document. The size of structures during the planning phase is usually reduced in scale through specific scales, such as a metric understanding of planning using a 1:1000 scale. This means that each meter would be reduced by a scale of 1000, and you would read this architectural scale as “one to one thousand”.

how to read architectural scales

There are different architecture scale charts for imperial and metric measurements, as has been briefly mentioned above. So, depending on which country you are in, you will make use of a different general scale, but the idea will be the same. Regardless of which kind of measurement system is used, the concept of reducing the size of a structure during the planning phase is universal to professional architecture.



How to Read Architectural Scales

It is not particularly difficult to read architectural scales, and so when it comes to how to read architectural scales, you only really need to keep a few things in mind. You first need to determine what kind of scale on the architecture scale chart it is using, and this is typically located in the key or back of the document.

Once that is in place, you will use an architectural scale ruler that converts the size for you.

Once you have this in place, you can measure the correct distances to determine the true scale of a structure. This kind of measurement can require some calculation after the fact, but this simply requires a conversion of the scale from its reduced size to what its true size would be. This will then allow you to know exactly how big a building will be, and that is how to read architectural scales.



How to Use an Engineering Scale

The engineering scale is a thing that is similar to an architectural scale but not quite the same. This is a scale that is instead used in larger projects, and often those that are civil projects, like bridges and roads. The reason that this scale is used instead of architectural scales is because of the general size of these projects in comparison to buildings.

how to use an engineering scale

The basic difference is that instead of using a fractal system, such as 1:10, it uses a fixed ratio system. The values being used in an engineering scale need to be multiplied by ten to obtain their true size. So, the general idea is the same as it is with architectural scales, but the means of calculating it are slightly different.



Designing Without Architectural Scales

If you wanted to try and design a structure without making use of architectural scales, you’re likely in for a particularly difficult time. While it isn’t necessarily impossible, it would not be practical in any kind of a professional architectural setting. Accurate architectural scales help to prepare all of the planning ahead of actual construction, and this is necessary because accurate planning also allows for accurate preparation. For instance, if you do not use a proper architectural scale when designing a structure, you will not be able to determine the correct quantity of materials that you need to use.

Furthermore, architectural scales allow for far better communication as you can better determine which areas need to be constructed first and where to allocate which resources.

The architectural scale of the planning of a structure allows anyone who has access to the plans, and who is also able to read said plans, to be able to understand what needs to be done for the construction to get underway. This kind of communication, such as how many pieces of each construction material need to be acquired, can also aid in determining the cost of the structure ahead of time. If we can determine exactly how much steel is needed, and how large the building will be, and therefore how many hours it should take to assemble, we can calculate the costs of labor and materials. This is particularly important in any personal setting.

architecture scale chart

Perhaps if you were building a house by yourself with no assistance, you may be able to more easily get away with not using architectural scales of any kind, but in any other setting, it can be difficult. It is not only difficult to ditch architectural scales because it will make it difficult to plan things out, to determine costs, or to communicate, but also because of the law. Many countries around the world require that buildings include plans, and these plans need to be accurately drawn because they are typically filed into a region’s planning department. If you do not use proper plans, and so skip out on various legal requirements of the design of buildings, you are liable to get in trouble with the government. In severe cases, a structure can even be forcibly pulled down if regulations are not adhered to as the law stipulates.


The planning of a structure is central to architecture in general, and so the use of architectural scales is something that is incredibly important. In this article, we have discussed how to read architectural scales, measurements, and the architecture scale chart, and we have also had a look at how to use an engineering scale before ending off on a question that some may wonder: “Can you plan a building without architectural scales?”. Hopefully, this article has given you a good overview of the topic and aided in understanding why architectural scales are used and why they are so important to the design of the structures that we inhabit every day of our lives.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Are Architectural Scales?

The basic idea behind architectural scales is a relatively simple one. This is a term that has been used to refer to the tools that are used by architects, and those who are studying to become architects, to determine the scale of structures in the planning phase of a structure. All buildings have a real size, as in the size of an actual building, but we cannot draw the plans for a building that is the same size as the building itself. For this reason, we use architectural scales, and these allow us to reduce the size of the structure in a drawing while retaining the general scale. To put it in simple terms, we can draw plans that are fifty times smaller than the building itself but retain the correct proportions so that when it is constructed, it is properly planned out on paper.


How Do You Read Architectural Scales?

When it comes to how to read architectural scales, it really isn’t all that complicated. All architectural drawings will have a scale written down somewhere on the page. This scale is usually written in the legend of the plan drawing or it will be underneath the page in question. This scale will then correspond to a specific measurement system, either metric or imperial, and you will be able to use your ruler to determine the true size of everything that has been drawn in the planning phase. This is integral to being able to read architectural scales in the planning documents of a structure, and it helps us to better visualize and prepare structures on paper before they need to be built into real-world structures in physical space.


What Are Architectural Measurements?

This is the term that is used to refer to the specific dimensions of a structure that are used in architectural planning documents, such as drawings and blueprints. These measurements help in showing the general scale of the structure and are generally presented in the imperial system in the United States, and the metric system in practically every other country on the planet. These measurements need to be extremely accurate so that the layout, size, shape, and planning of a building can be determined entirely before the construction phase can begin at all. These architectural measurements also include everything from the height of ceilings and doors, the placement of windows, the dimensions of each and every room in a building, and so on. We need to know the size of a structure, and all of its dimensions, before we can hope to begin construction.


What Is the Architecture Scale Chart?

When it comes to architectural scales in general, it is generally best to have a chart of some kind to help us determine the size of the planning on paper in comparison to the size of the structure once it has actually been built. The architecture scale chart is a series of different possible sizes that could be presented. For instance, one of those metric scales would be 1:5000. This means, and is read as, one to five thousand. So, each centimeter would be representative of five thousand centimeters. This architecture scale chart is used in all instances of architectural planning where scale needs to be shown, and the specific architectural scale that is used will be found somewhere on the planning documents.


What Is an Engineering Scale in Architecture?

When it comes to the design of far larger structures, such as civil engineering projects like roadways and site layouts, typical architectural scales do not come into play as they make use of fractal scaling, and it is preferable to use a fixed ratio of length. So, when it comes to how to use an engineering scale, you need to be aware of some of the common dimensions that are used, such as 1:10 in inches. This is a decimalized fraction of an inch, and to attain the true size of a structure, it needs to be multiplied by ten. This method is more commonly used outside of residential and commercial structures.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, “Architectural Scales – Precision in Proportion.” Art in Context. January 8, 2024. URL:

van Huyssteen, J. (2024, 8 January). Architectural Scales – Precision in Proportion. Art in Context.

van Huyssteen, Justin. “Architectural Scales – Precision in Proportion.” Art in Context, January 8, 2024.

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