6 Ways to Study Construction Details for ARE 5.0
Construction details are the most daunting component of the ARE. Construction Details are often considered to be best learned "on the job," by working through detail drawings with a senior staff member, observations on construction site visits, or conversations with contractors. In my experience, details were not a major focus in my architecture undergraduate or graduate degree programs so perhaps that is why it is often considered "on the job" learning. Despite that common conception, construction details are possible to study! So, fear-not if you, like most ARE examinees, are early in your career and have not had a lot of experience on construction sites. This post will detail ways to study construction details for both the novice and more experienced alike.
If you haven't yet spent much time working on construction details or visiting constructions sites it may seem like you have to know how every possible building could be constructed, and immediately feel overwhelmed. However, it is really more important to have a clear understanding of basic principles and then applying them to different situations. But with the proper studying strategy, you can have a clear understanding of typical construction assemblies that will help you navigate any scenario the ARE throws at you! The shear amount of content that could show up on the exam can easily feel overwhelming, so it is important to understand the fundamentals. This is especially true for most ARE examinees who are early in their architectural career and typically do not have a lot of field experience yet. While having spent more time on construction sites can help with this portion of the ARE, it is by no means necessary.
From my experience, here are the six best ways to study constructions details:
1. Study detail drawings
There are many great resources to study existing detail drawings. Take a look at building construction books such as Francis D.K. Ching's "Building Construction Illustrated." If you have access, take a look at your firm's archives or current projects. Reviewing your office's details will help you prepare for the ARE exam and increase your familiarity with the office's standard details, and that will be extremely useful as you work on projects through the Construction Documents phase.
While the idea of sitting down to pour over some complicated detail drawings might sound mind-numbingly boring. Rather than passively looking at them, the key is to learn to read the details. When you review each detail, look for how the following elements are controlled:
Eventually, by finding these control elements, you will develop an understanding of the fundamental principles of building science and will be able to apply them to a variety of situations.
2. Site Visits
While it is very possible to learn construction details without a lot of professional site visits, I must emphasize that they are great learning opportunities. Be sure to seek out every opportunity your job provides to visit sites and make your interest known. Sometimes more experienced architects can forget how unfamiliar early-stage architects can be with job sites so it's great to make sure everyone is aware that you are looking for opportunities to visit sites.
3. Observe buildings under construction around you
Even if you do not have that many opportunities for site visits through work, it is possible to observe construction all around you. Start keeping an eye out for construction projects. It's great if there are some on a route you often take so that you can notice how construction progresses over time. Notice the sequencing of each trade and the order of operations the building undergoes. Look for any construction methods that are different than what you've been studying and do some research to understand why this method was chosen.
A fantastic way to get more out of your construction observation is to keep a sketch book and take notes. Sketch the various layers of construction, being careful to understand the order of assembly. Be sure to annotate the four control elements we talked about earlier. Take notes of anything you are not sure about and do research later when you're studying or ask a colleague. You can also study by sketching details from a finished building. The key is to use sketching as a tool to understand how buildings are put together.
5. Design Publications
There are a myriad of design publications that will often publish construction details. A few to check out are Dwell, Dezeen, Fine Homebuilding, and Arch Daily. Publications can be an especially useful way to study construction types that aren't common in your area or at your office. For example, brick construction is commonly evaluated on the ARE, but not all firms regularly build with brick, nor is it common in every location. As you study the details, remember to identify the four key control layers. Redrawing these details in your sketchbook and taking notes can help ensure that you are fully understanding the important concepts.
In addition to formal design publications, many experts provide digital content on construction details. The greatest thing about these sources is they typically post real-world examples from their work and provide thorough explanations. When studying detail drawings starts to feel too abstract, it is great to switch over to some practical examples. There are really too many experts working in this field to mention here, so I would suggest taking some time to explore what is out there. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
The Build Show: Matt Risinger is a contractor who runs an impressive Instagram, YouTube channel, and blog that goes over all sorts of construction-related topics. His content is a wonderful way to view real-world applications of design details. He is especially focused on ultra-low energy construction methods.
Building Science Fight Club: Christine Williamson is a building science expert who runs an Instagram focused on construction details. She often posts construction failures, which is an awesome way to get a grasp on the impact details can have.
The Craftsman Blog: Scott Sidler is a historic restoration expert who has a blog, Instagram, and YouTube channel all about restoration. His focus is on historic windows, but the principles are a terrific way to understand the key control layers we have discussed.