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Rants and Wisdom




In Rants and Wisdom

By lthomas

What ever happened to “Architectural Lettering”?

On 23, Jan 2017 | 7 Comments | In Rants and Wisdom | By lthomas

As far back as I can remember, one could identify an architect by his or her handwriting, or as it is called in the trade, “Lettering.”

Construction drawings completed in large firms were shared, even before the days of computer modeling programs. You could always identify the author of a particular detail or sheet by the ever so slight personality in their lettering. Sometimes in architectural school, but moreover in your first job, you learned how to letter correctly with a straightedge, triangle and the chiseled point of an HB lead. With time and practice, you could letter quickly, anywhere, anytime.  It was an art form in itself.


From Frank Ching’s “Architectural Graphics”–once the “Bible” for young architects:



Now I sadly note that young architects never learn this skill and, like drafting itself, it is slowly disappearing. The computer programs that replicate, cut, paste and infill also create a faux “architects font,” but it’s not the same. Handsome – not to mention legible – handwriting was a mark of distinction for architects. Today, as soon as the architect steps away from the computer to handwrite something as simple as an address on an envelope for delivery (yes, real delivery with a real envelope), we are faced with an ugly, messy scrawl.

Lettering was a unique practice that took time and rigor to learn. Well-executed lettering showed precision and an awareness of style, order and balance. It was a way architects could express pride of profession, and it was a great connector of all architects, everywhere. Watching it go away is like attending the symphony and seeing the musicians have exchanged their meticulous black tie for blue jeans. Something beautiful is missing.

Lettering is such a part of who I am that I still letter at every opportunity. It is truly second nature to me. At an event when I am asked to fill out a ubiquitous nametag, I quickly and distinctively letter “LAURA.” People always say, “You must be an architect!”  I just smile and say, “How did you know?”


  1. Alyssa Kimber

    It is sad that not all young architects will learn this skill.

    • I beg to differ. As a recent grad From Philadelphia university’s architecture school one of the first things we learned was proper architectural lettering. we continued to use throughout school and it stick with us.

      • lthomas

        Glad to hear it!

  2. Undgrd Arch Student

    Well, you may be pleased to know that my design professor here at Pratt has Frank Ching’s “Architectural Graphics” listed as a required book. He’s big on hand-drafting.

  3. Gia

    In Ecuador, even with Autocad and Sketch up, students are required to do all work for the first two years by hand, and that includes 3D models and lettering. Several friends and my sister are architecture majors. They used to moan and whine because of the emphasis in hand work, but now that they’re graduating, they have gained an appreciation for it. My sister said it helped her be attentive to detail, even in digital work. I, being a Fine Arts major, always valued hand work and understood its power, so I would always tell them to keep at it, and to be patient. I’m glad they persevered, and eventually fell in love with the actual craft.

  4. Jessica Breitbach (@minerva_jb)

    I learned architectural lettering in high school, but it wasn’t pushed in undergrad, even though we were required to hand-draft everything. I insisted on keeping up my lettering skills for my studio projects, though — but strangely enough, I had a professor who asked me “why do you write that way?” during a final crit. I still try to letter today, though I am definitely out of practice and not half as speedy as I once was (in 2003).

  5. Just like the slide rule, the T square , electric eraser, lettering is a dying tool. Curious what the next generation of architects will encounter?

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