Dimension backwards

I enjoy documenting. I enjoy the design thinking that goes into good detailing, the artfulness of laying out a page, the methodical assembly of a rigorous documentation set. As the years have passed, I have codified a list of ten rules for exceptional documentation. Some have been bestowed upon me by peers like perfect golden nuggets of wisdom, others have come to me in epiphanic dreams, and yet others I have had to learn the hard way with gritted teeth and much yelling.

I hereby release this list into the wilds of the internet so that future architecture students may stumble upon its wholesome goodness in their moments of need.

An archive of the list can be accessed here.

7. Dimension backwards

Rules for exceptional documentation


Adding dimensions to a floor plan. You follow the prevailing wisdom in laying them out:

  • Overall dimension on the outside
  • Then the closest facade
  • Then through the building with each inwards-stepping dimension line

Each dimension line takes up 200mm of space, so to be on the safe side you set the first overall dimension 1000mm away from the edge of the building. It’s a good arrangement, a sensible one. It boasts an elegant symmetry as each dimension line marches in sync with its related layer of the building.

But your building is complex, none of the internal walls or openings align. Your dimensioning starts easily enough, but things get rapidly out of hand once you move inside the building. Each dimension line can capture a room or two, but you soon discover your initial estimate of 1000mm is laughably inadequate. Before you can blink, your dimension lines are filling up, they’re drawing closer to the building edge, and closer. You’re only halfway through the interior and there’s. No. More. Room.

Oh sure, you can always stretch the dimensions outwards to give more room on the inside, but what you really feel like doing is throwing your computer out the window.

Fortunately, an exceptional documentation set will save you from this satisfyingly dramatic though needlessly costly act by making one small, counter-intuitive change to your dimensioning layout:

  • Overall dimension on the inside
  • Then the closest facade
  • Then through the building with each outwards-stepping dimension line

Now your dimensions march outwards as the elements they’re dimensioning march inwards. Which is great, because there’s always more room on the outside.

Try it, you’ll love it.


  1. Dimension backwards, author’s own image.

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