Creating Grid Layouts in Design and CAD

How creating “Grid Lines”, in the early stages of your design, can save you a lot of time and effort.

When we were in college, we had this vague idea about Grid Lines. Something that was associated with the ugliest subject on the course list. You guessed it? Great.

As we approached the final months of college; I began to develop a better understanding of its importance. I still found it hard to use it to my advantage, but it was always there in the back of my head. I just didn’t know how to get it on paper. And perhaps that is because I always learned to design buildings in a free-form way, never constricted within the limitations of a grid layout. Little did I know that that was complicating things. Perhaps it gave me a little more freedom in terms of design; but it certainly created a lot of problems later.

At work, my first experience with Grid Lines were on CAD; where I did countless of tender drawings for projects in which Grid lines were one of the first things that went onto the model space. When I became an assistant architect, I was sometimes allowed to design buildings on my own. My manager taught me a valuable lesson in that fold, one that has helped me so much since. He told me:

“Always start your design with a Grid Layout”

At first, I thought it was silly. Most of my designs started to look symmetrical. But with time; I realized that that helped me look ahead of the lines of my paper. I saw all the things my eyes were blind to in the past. I began to see the beams, the columns, the water supply and drainage pipes, the shafts …etc. I felt I was looking at a whole new world.

But I am not writing this article to talk to you about all of the advantages that come with using a Grid Layout. I want to show you how to use it to your advantage. And I will be doing these simple steps.

First things first. 

1- Develop an understanding of how big your project is and what purpose it will serve.

If you are going to design a factory you need a column free space, one that has as little columns as possible. With not many columns the number of grid lines will be significantly less.

The thing about architecture is that you not only have to plan for what you want to do now, at this moment, with your design. You also have to plan for what’s going to come up in the future. And that involves structural, mechanical and electrical design. Along with all the water supply and drainage networks that will be passing through your building.


2- After you have established the purpose and size of your building, you’re ready to estimate the approximate distance between each horizontal and vertical line. It’s best do this on top of your site plan, this will help give you an idea of how large your site is and where your building stands.

Note: There are other important things to keep in mind in the early stages of the project. Things such as the desired orientation, the client’s preferences and the functionality of your spaces. I will not enlist these as part of this blog, but you mustn’t forget to include them in your design. 

Know the structure of your building

I know like something you would want to not think of, especially if you studied in design school. But if you understand the kind of structure your firm uses for different building types, this would save you a lot. I used to think that I had to have a maximum distance of 6m between columns. You can imagine how much that constricted me in my designs. It wasn’t until I started working that I realized you can push it up to 12m if you’re using a larger column.

So the size of your grid depends on many things:

1- The size of your columns.
2- How much your client is willing to pay.
3- The structure of your building (slabs, beams …etc)
4- The location of your shafts.
5- The size of your site.

Do I have to have equal distances between my grid lines?

The answer is no, there are only a few cases in which creating equal grid lines are preferable (i.e hospitals). The general idea is that grid lines are used to make your design process as easy as possible.

Do you need to follow the lines? Certainly not, in fact if you feel it is constricting you, I would suggest you ignore it. But I have always found that when it comes to designing and building services, grid lines are essential in design stages.


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