Book Review: Encyclopedia of Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture

Encyclopedia of Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture by Virginia McLeod
Laurence King Publishing, 2010
Hardcover, 416 pages

Even as BIM (Building Information Modeling) supplants CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting) as the primary means of producing construction documents on the computer, construction details continue to be important. Plans, sections, and elevations may be automatically created by the 3d model in the BIM software, but details still must be developed and drawn. Knowledge of construction is certainly crucial, but so is knowing how to convey the right information to the contractor and their subs. Virginia McLeod's series of Detail in Contemporary ... books are helpful in extending the knowledge base of architects beyond what they and their associates have worked on.
In this "Encyclopedia" focused on single-family houses, over 700 details are collected from projects on five continents. A first section introduces each of the 100 houses with a couple color photographs and a brief description, organized by primary material (concrete, glas, masonry, steel, timber). The following section, the bulk of the book, presents the details in seven chapters: walls, floors, windows, doors, roofs, stairs, landscape. The details are all drawn consistently, in terms of linework, hatching, labeling, and so forth. Both metric and imperial units are given in the notes, and the details are drawn so both units of measurement can be used to scale the drawings (e.g.: 1:10, where 1 unit equals 10 units, instead of 1/8"=1'-0", where a metric conversion is difficult).
So what is missing from the details? Millwork and other interior details are omitted. Dimensions are not included (sizes are given, where appropriate, but thickness of a wall assembly, for example, must be determined with a scale). For the most part the details are extremely thorough and well done. Although some details seem unnecessary: the striking designs collected point to a presentation of the unique conditions of each project, so when a Graphic Standards-esque footing detail is found, for example, it seems that the book could have been pared down a bit, or expanded the number of projects. But the glaring omission is context. The first section's photos convey what is unique about each house, but they do not portray enough to situate each detail in context. Small-scale plans and sections with keyed details would have aided in understanding how the relationship of the details to the overall designs. But this is only one way to use the book; most likely architects will focus on the different detail chapters, looking for floor or stair details they can learn from. Most helpful for them is the CD-ROM that includes EPS and DWG files for all drawings.