Monday, January 4, 2010

Let's Talk About Scale: The Architect Scale

Let's talk about scale today shall we? No? Not so soon after the holidays? I hear you so I'll be gentle and instead of talking of the scale that tells you your weight in pounds, how about we talk of a landscape scale, aka engineer or architect scale. It has been quite a while since I've posted some tips on designing a landscape or garden and thought it about time to talk about one of the most useful tools in gardening I have found, that is the architect scale.

There are two types of scales commonly used in drafting; which is kind of what a landscape designer does when he or she draws a landscape. I use the architect scale so this post is based on it. The engineer scale is similar in that it too is six sided so there can be six different scales on it used for measuring distance. But the engineer scale is broken down into multiples of ten based on the metric system and cannot be used with a normal ruler like the architect scale.

The architect scale is broken down into measurements most folks are familiar with and can easily work with. The measurements are based on a ruler. For instance, if you use a 1/8 inch scale you automatically know eight times 1/8 (8/1 x 1/8 =8/8 or 1 inch) equals one inch. Now let's translate those measurements into feet. One inch of distance on the drawing using the 1/8 scale can only be eight feet! Easy right? Something that measures 1.5 inches on the 1/8 scale would be 12 feet (1.5"/1/8=12)! You can figure it all out in your head or you can just use an architect scale and make life so much easier. The architect scale is already marked in 'feet' with all measurements figured out for you-minus the ruler increments. Sound complicated? It is not, trust me. The only part that might be complicated is reading the distance from right to left or left to right. I will explain a bit later in this post what I mean.

The other scales on the architect scale besides 1/8 are: 1/4, 1/2, 1, 1.5, 3, 3/4, 3/8, 3/16, 3/32, and a normal ruler (but please don't use your scale to measure on your drawing-that's what a ruler is for-according to my teacher:).

Architect scales can be purchased from any drawing or office supply store. Be sure the scale you pick up is marked 'architect' or you might wind up with an engineer scale and will have to work on the metric system in units of ten.

Just what do I mean you have to read right to left? We are all taught to read from left to right right? Well, in order to have so many scales on a six sided ruler, most of the edges of the scale have two scales. Take the 1/8 scale for example. This one does start at the left of the scale so you read it right to left. On the other side of the 1/8 scale is the 1/4 scale and it must be read right to left. It is really easy once you get used to it and realize how simple a principle the architect scale really is. Just be careful that you make sure each time you measure you are on the right scale as it can be easy to get confused and mix up the scale and you surely don't want to do that while drawing!

From In the Garden

Prior to learning about the architect scale I would use 1/4" graph paper to design gardens. It works, yes, but it is more difficult to count each of the little squares and there is not as much flexibility with designing the layout simply because the little squares you count are rigid, they do not move with your plants. With an architect scale you can move your plants anywhere and space them however you want without counting squares.

Another big deal with the architect scale (engineer too) is that you can easily determine the largest size scale for your project. You first have to know a few things. Let's use my design above as an example and I'll walk you through what I did. This is a house located in east Nashville (Wyoming Street). The owner wished for a full sized volleyball court, some privacy and an updated front foundation garden. I first measured the total lot size which turned out to be 170' x 60'. Since this was to be a complete landscape design I knew I'd be using a full sheet of vellum to draw the design upon. A full sheet measures 24" x 36". You can also use a half sheet (18" x 24"), or quarter sheet (12" x 18") vellum depending on your project and its size.

A full sheet sounds pretty big and it really is when you are talking of drawing on it, but you have to somehow fit your design on it along with a title block and border. I think a good landscape designer will have a standard sized title block and border on all his or her designs so I too have a standard sized border and title block. My title block and border take away approximately 3.5 inches from the bottom of a portrait drawn design (as in the case above) and approximately 1 inch all around the paper on the other three sides. Now my space for drawing the design is actually only 22" x 31". It is in this area that I must fit the complete lot if I am drawing a complete design.

Once I know the lot size, the amount of space I have to work with on my vellum, and the orientation of the drawing, I then take my scale and try to measure the 170' length and the 60' width into the area using the largest sized scale possible. In this case the largest scale I could draw and still get the whole design in along with a spot for the plant list was 1/8.

I now use 1/8 scale to draw and measure all design elements on my design. The house, trees, shrubs, paths, you name it, they all have measurements which must be depicted accurately in order for the design to work. Always use the same scale on your whole drawing. Different sized designs may require different scales but each design should be consistent with one scale.
Due to the very large size of the last landscape design I posted on, I had to use a 3/32 scale-a very small scale in my humble opinion but it was the only scale where I could fit a 300 foot plus property on the vellum.

If you are thinking of drawing a garden for yourself (as most of us do at one time or another) I suggest you start with a piece of paper larger than standard sized letter paper. Perhaps an 11" x 16" or larger. You need not use vellum if you are drawing a design for yourself so don't worry about that. Now get your garden size, orient your paper, and pick your scale and get to drawing. If you wish for a professional design check out my website.

We'll talk more about landscape design at another time when I will explain what a title block and what should be included in it. But for now, if you draw garden or landscape designs recreationally and don't have an architect's scale-go get one and make life easy on yourself. And P.S. don't worry about the holiday weight, gardening season is very near. Can't you feel the days getting longer? Plants are budding and soon we'll all be back...

in the garden....

P.S. I have changed the dates of my standard postings as noted on my sidebar. Instead of publishing the Plant of the Month, Bloom Day, and Veggie Garden Update on certain dates, I've chosen to publish them on Wednesdays only as annotated so as to allow weekends to be free from blogging. This Wednesday will see the first 'Plant of the Month' for 2010. And yes-there are plants blooming the garden!


  1. You never cease to amaze me with your information..

  2. It's the same way with dollhouses because different size houses demand different size furnishings, 1:12 is 1 inch equals 1 foot, it's a cool measurement way for space.

  3. Good morning Tina, what a design!! wow. My daughter is teaching fractions and ratios now and would be very impressed with your explanation. (I am!) Looking forward to more design techniques. Great info, thanks!

  4. Wow Tina--that's alot of information! I try to think about balance when I plant, especially since I have a narrow backyard.
    Thanks for the encouragement with "soon we'll all be back.."--not soon enough for me! It has been so cold and dreary here. I am ready for spring! :)
    Good to hear from you again-have a wonderful Monday!

  5. Interesting info! Welcome back to blogging! The landscape design looks great.

  6. Dear Tina, welcome back, we missed your terribly! This is amazing, I have always wondered how the pros made those precise drawings. We always did it free hand with lots of guesstimates on the plants, etc. This might be silly, but what caught my attention is the velum paper. The wheels are turning about different uses for that cool paper. Can it be had at the office supply store? Along with the seed envelopes? HA


  7. Welcome back to blogging, Tina!
    Thanks for the lesson in scale. I have so much to learn!

  8. I see that you haven't been relaxing on your break, just sitting in front of the fire, sipping cocoa, and eating bonbons. You're a great teacher as well as motivator, Tina. Now I'm off to check out your website.

  9. Welcome back, Tina, we've missed you! You could teach classes on landscape design--this is explained so well! I have trouble drawing anything to scale; perhaps I should invest in this architect's scale and some larger paper--you would laugh to see my out of proportion drawings:) What I'm wondering about, though, is how you acquired all this knowledge? Have you taken some classes in landscape design? I have so many ideas for my back garden, but I can't seem to get started because I can't visualize the whole picture. I'd like to learn more about the design process.

    I'm really curious to see what is blooming in your garden at this time of year.

  10. Good morning all!

    Frances, You can get vellum at office supplies stores but be sure not to get the pages with an overlay of graph. Some have preprinted borders but I prefer mine blank. Usually you can get the big sheets at drawing supply stores. Office stores don't usually have large sheets.

    Rose, I took and completed a landscape design class last term but I am self taught. I used Todd Bertauski's excellent books on landscape design. He has info in them about scales and vellum and so on. The info on the vellum sheet measurements is from his book, the info on reading a scale is from my mind:) and looking at my scale and using it. As far as envisioning the big picture, I think it easier when you have a visual plane in front of you and can really size up space by using a scale. The big picture then comes. The value of using vellum is that you can place tracing paper over the vellum to sketch your ideas on that and if you make a mistake you can change the tracing paper out easily. Tracing paper is way cheaper than vellum. Once you get the design right you place the tracing paper under the vellum then transfer the design to your final design. I'll post on this later-I'll probably do a design post each month. A light table helps as I have found. I'll be taking advanced landscape design this term and am looking forward to learning more of the mechanics and visuals of drawing a design. I've not found much info on the web about these subjects but I may be looking in the wrong spots.

  11. Wow! You are amazing(-: I can't do all that. I just throw things in and hope for the best(-: LOL
    Happy New Year!

  12. I always wanted to take drafting. My dad was an architect. All the acoutrement is familiar. You are looking very professional. :)

  13. Hi Tina,
    I'm glad you posted this on FB! It is very instructive. I have graph paper and I have attempted to use the grid in Adobe Illustrator without a lot of success. Your post tells me what pieces I was missing...vellum and the architects scale. Thanks again. Happy New Year

  14. Hi Tina, So glad to see you posting and commenting again. Though I 100% applaud you setting a schedule that works for you. Lately, I find I spend a lot more time online than I'd like... I keep checking for messages... it makes a lot more sense to check less frequently and get more each time!! Oh, and by scale, I wasn't even thinking of the weighing kind, I thought you meant the plant disease! :) Happy new year!

  15. Im hopelessly confused but I better get on it if I want my new home...that is currently only seeded, to start looking like something other than a pile o mud. Thanks for all the info, my mom the green thumb will surely sort it all out!!

  16. Happy New Year!
    At one point, I considered becoming an architect, and my dad always had plans and an architect's scale hanging around the house. You'd think I'd be really into this sort of thing with the garden then, but I've become very free form, and put away my plot plan and tracing paper. I still like to look at other's drawings.

  17. Sounds very much over my head....have never been able to figure out where all my 4 girls got their brains from. LOL

  18. Hi Tina, welcome back from your brief vacation. Looks like you are rested and ready to get down to some serious work.

    Good to hear you have some blooms there in Tennessee. So cold here it's a chore to just fill the feeders and do the bare minimum outside.

  19. Sounds like you are very disciplined in your approach. I'm not good at things like rulers, but if I concentrate very hard, I can sometimes pull it off. It's a good idea to draw out the garden, thanks for the tips on how to do it like a pro! (PS your link to your website doesn't seem to work, it has your blog address ahead of your web site's address, I erased the preceding blog address from the URL and then it worked)

  20. First of all, Yeah you're all back!
    Secondly this was really interesting. I had no idea really how the scale worked. Great post! :)

  21. Hi Tina,

    My "8 Scale" is my best friend and I have two extra in case I misplace my favorite one. Wonderful information!

  22. Thank you so much for this great advice! I just moved to a new house with a big backyard almost entirely as a blank slate. But I have to design around a large above-ground pool with an attached, tiered deck, a large playset and a border of mature, very tall pine trees that I assume will block out some of the sun...the architect scale and larger piece of paper will save me a lot of grief! Thanks!

  23. Hi and welcome back Tina -wow -I'm with Jean on this one -too deep for me, hahaha. The birds have been out in full force on my backyard the past few freezing cold days -I can't wait for it to warm up. I look forward to us checking out all the pretty spring flowers -soon, very soon I hope:) Ciao

  24. Welcome back Tina! Was nice to take a break wasnt it :-) We got back home to Georgia yesterday and I have spent the entire day getting things back in place and running the washer and dryer. It is nice to be back though and I must get my fingers to typing again!

  25. Lisa, You are most welcomed and good luck! The best advice I wished I'd had before I began my home would be to plan. Too late once the plants start going in. Just look at the big picture and allow for expansion.

    Anonymous, You're not kidding. Cold Cold Cold!!!! Birds are everywhere indeed. The weatherman said we haven't had such a long cold snap as this in several years. I hope it does away with the bug explosion from last summer. Back to school tomorrow!

    Skeeter, Welcome home gal! It was most nice seeing you on break and catching up. You take it easy and relax.

    Where is Lola today? Here is a hug to her!

  26. Hi Tina!

    Happy New Year to you and yours.

    Great tutorial on the scale! It sounds like your landscape design career is going well.

    I spent a lot of time with our architect drawing the blueprints for this house (because I completely redesigned it from his original). He made all changes, drew all blueprints by hand instead of using a computer. He introduced me to his scale! At first I thought "slide rules" again! LOL


  27. Glad you're back to the blog, Tina!

    As I look at the plan you've drawn up, another difference between using the scale and using graph paper occurs to me: the results on plain paper, using the scale, look way cleaner, more professional than a garden drawn on top of gridded paper. I try to save graph paper for...graphs!

  28. Welcome back, Tina. We've all missed ya. Happy New Year to you.

    Good post on the Architect scale. I can, but rarely do, a complicated drawing as most of my designs are for small urban gardens.

    I've trained my engineer husband to do my scale drawings. Being a pro at drafting he of course does a fantastic job and that saves a lot of time for me as well.

    I'm glad that your gardening season is very near. The days are NOT getting longer here in this frozen artic plain. Plants won't be budding until April or May so a long way for us to go.

  29. Good to have you back, Tina and a happy 2010 to ya!

    My poor "favorites" button has so many of your useful posts bookmarked already, but I have to add this one, too. Very useful to know. I've always wanted an architectural markup of my property - maybe I'll actually get it done this year.

  30. Wow, I'm glad your back. All that info is good but I agree it is way over my head. I just plop them down wherever I think they may look good. I will admit that I have roughly drawn on paper where things are planted so I can get an idea how it looks.
    Not good here as I've had the bug that's going around. It's still here & so are 3 more mouths to feed. No make that 4 as the 4 legged one is here too. Don't know how long that will be.
    Thanks a bunch.

  31. Lola, Get well soon. Lots of chicken soup and rest. Enjoy the company and stay warm.

  32. Hi Tina. I was so happy to see your name among my comments the other day. I'm glad you're back in the blogging world.
    Good info in your post and very professional way to go about design. I never was good at numbers, no wonder I throw my hands up and just plant! I need you in my garden!
    Happy New Year and Welcome Back!

  33. Welcome back! I know I'm joining the conversation late but just a few thoughts:

    I try to design in 1/4 scale or 1/8th scale whenever possible. Contractor's don't necessarily have an architect's scale with them all the time, and often use their tape measure to interpret your design. 1/4" and 1/8" are much easier to understand this way. You'll also find when you're supervising your design's construction or the placement of the plants that you'll often eyeball your own measurements, and sticking with a consistent measuring system will help.

    Finally, don't be too quick to dismiss an engineer's scale. For the reasons listed above, if a plan is too big to draft in 1/8" scale I either break it into sections on more than one sheet or jump to ten scale. 10'= 1" is easier to grasp than 3/32" = 1'. The one time I did a plan in 3/16 scale, I really through the contractor or a loop (and confused myself as well).