Where to Begin? A Study vs. Construction Drawings

Mar 7, 2022 | Architecture

Author Steve Blackburn
Master Planning Benefits Chart
The clients on all our design projects have goals they are trying to achieve. Some want to do a renovation of an existing space to house their new restaurant. Or add a new wing to their school. Or build a new house. Different types of projects that have one thing in common – we do not know exactly where they will end up, or how we will get there in the design process.

Bob and Emily, for instance, are building a new home. They have the land, have looked at several different sample house plans, and have a pretty good idea of what they want to accomplish. But until they see how their ideas for different rooms fit into a plan that also works with the site, it’s difficult to put it all together.

Or Michael, a developer that has a great location for a new hotel / retail establishment. He has locked in his clients and put together a business plan to make sure the place makes money. But it can take weeks or even months to go through all the ways the rooms will be laid out to best reach his goals.

This is where most people will hire an architect to begin the process of designing their dream. Then we will work with the client to figure out different layouts for their spaces, some great options for an exterior look, and how it will fit on the site.

There are many routes to translating an architect’s design into a finished building project. The biggest question, though, is . . . what is the most efficient and cost-effective method to go about this? If your project is simple, and you’ve already decided on every aspect of the design, you may be ready to jump into the Construction Drawings – a full-blown set of documents that allows a builder to get started. But if you have elements of the design that still need to be considered, it may be best to begin with what is called a Study.

A Study vs. Construction Drawings (CDs)

What exactly do these terms mean?

A Study: A scaled-down version of drawings for a project that provides a basis for the architect and owner to work through the essential parameters and design of a construction project. This set of documents is typically less formal and developed than the construction drawings used to estimate and build the structure”


The main purpose of a study is to look at overall aspects of the building, such as:

  • How to place the building on the site. This takes into consideration the site constraints, such as setbacks and utilities. On hilly or “vertically-challenged” sites, the study can help detzermine the best way to use the existing grade early in the project development. Ideally this would be assisted by a survey of the property.
  • Answer the question: “Do we add on to our existing structure, or tear it down and build new?” It’s often difficult to determine which route to go – a study can help narrow down and choose the best option.
  • Look at options for the plan layout
  • Illustrate and choose materials for the exterior of the building.
Master Plan - Existing & Future

We also develop basic 3D views of your building, using the latest architectural and visualization software. This allows us to “study” many crucial aspects of the building and site, such as:

  • Will the orientation of the building on the site work with the sun’s pattern, wind patterns, and the lot itself?
  • How does the building look in 3D? Our software allows us to spin the building model and look at it from all sides and vantage points.
  • How do the interior spaces look and “feel” as you walk through them? We use virtual reality to actually “walk through” the rooms of our 3D digital model. This allows us to judge how all the elements are coming together. It also gives us a good sense if the overall space and heights work – like we are really there!

At this “study” phase of the design, this 3D analysis is done primarily to get a sense of the overall direction to proceed in the process. It does not include most of the final finishes and colors – these elements are added later in the “Construction Drawings”. But even a basic “look” at the 3D model can give us critical direction in how to best move forward with the design.

All these elements in the “study” process help an owner visualize different aspects and options of a project, before spending a lot of time and money on a course of action that is going in the wrong direction.

It can also answer one of the owner’s burning questions – “Will the vision of my building work in the real world?” Better to find out sooner rather than later! A study can help make these decisions before you go down a more expensive path with the final drawings.

Construction Drawings

These “revelations” can then be incorporated into the actual building set, what we call

Construction Drawings: The detailed plans that the project is built from

  • The architectural drawings assigned by the architect to convey his concept, ideas, construction details and other specifications required on the site for the contractor to execute the design
  • Term for drawings that constitute production information. These drawings are a complete package that will allow a builder to estimate the cost of the project, provide information for the local permitting process, and become the official “documents” (with the specs) throughout the construction
The “Construction Drawing” package for a residential project is sometimes reduced to what is referred to as a “Builder’s Set”, which has just enough information for the builder to provide estimates and begin the local permitting process. Many competent builders can also build the complete house from the Builder’s Set. This set typically includes:


  •  A Site Plan (and survey of the property)
  • Floor Plans (First Floor, Second Floor, Basement, etc.) with dimensions
  • Foundation Plan with dimensions
  • Foundation Section and Details that are needed to build the foundation
  • Exterior Elevations with heights and all materials called out
  • One or two typical building sections showing heights and construction
  • Roof plan showing all roofs and overhangs, complete with materials and slope information

A complete Construction Drawing Set would have all the above, as well as:

  • A more complete site plan package
  • A complete and detailed package of building and wall sections
  • Interior Elevations showing heights, finishes and details
  • Kitchen Elevations calling out cabinetry heights and appliances
  • Window and Door Schedule calling out sizes, materials, etc.
  • Room Finish Schedule with interior finishes (carpet, tile, etc.)
  • More detailed floor and roof framing plans
  • Mechanical and electrical plans and diagrams
  • More developed 3D views that help builders visualize the final design
These Construction Drawings lock down the design throughout the project, allowing you to estimate the costs, get the required permits, and go on to build a successful project.

Final Set

This final drawing set is required on just about every project, but it can still save time and money to begin with a study. It’s not for every project, though – that’s why we will evaluate if your project is a good candidate for a study. Why jump too soon into the final drawings and then spend money later to adjust them to a design that could have been best discovered in the study? If you’re looking for assistance with this decision, contact us at CARMI Design Group for professional guidance with designing your project.