While it is not a term widely used by homeowners, or outside of architecture and construction circles, the elevation is a unique consideration and tool employed in the design of any home. As a drawing, an elevation is a two-dimensional projection perpendicular to the vertical plane – meaning, it is a flat view seen while the “observer” is looking forward.
Most commonly, elevations portray the individual sides of a house. In this sense, they’re an interpretation of a three-dimensional view and are not actually experienced when looking at the house.
Like other architectural drawings, elevations are a set of instructions. They’re directions for how many, where to position, how to connect the pieces of a puzzle…or house! They’re a means of communicating a connection between inside and outside (where the windows are located and how tall the roof is), but also a glimpse into the design process.
When an architect or designer is developing a concept for a house, they’ll likely begin by loosely drawing the plan to organize spaces and determine how big it will be. In doing so, they’re considering things like “What room should get the most light?” and “Where is the best view?” or “What rooms need to be concealed for privacy?”. These all work together to establish the house’s footprint, which significantly defines the mass, or shape and scale, of the house.
As the house takes shape, details such as the openings and trim are refined. Using the flat plane of an elevation drawing, the architect or designer is able to work through and verify the relationship of pieces that shape the face of the house. A design’s success is measured largely on the balance of its composition – nothing should be added/removed or enlarged/reduced without spoiling it. It should come as no surprise that the adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a mainstay among designers.
Elevation drawings are emblematic. Unlike floor plans, they’re less abstract and don’t require much translating to comprehend. A well-executed elevation should be both informative and evocative. As basic drawing conventions in the design industry, lines representing building materials (like brick, stone, and siding) are intended to have a tangible quality. Looking at these images, you can recognize characteristics like scale, texture, and reflectiveness as much as you can identify doors, windows, roofs, and columns – even with an “untrained” eye.
This is what makes elevations special. In residential design specifically, people are often drawn to and compelled by familiarity and nostalgia. Your home should be a place of comfort and this can be derived, in part, by association – the bay window off your living room reminds you of days waving back to your family as you left the house. Or, the chimney peaking over your roof makes you think of winters spent in front of the fire. These sentimental qualities are powerful and are rooted in visual memories. When working with an architect or choosing a design from a builder, this type of recognition will resonate with you – it will ensure that you not only understand the home you’re building and that it meets your expectations, but it captivates you as well.
Guest blog courtesy of W.C. Ralston Architects, an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.