On Data & Standards

My desk is lodged between two bookshelves so, as you may imagine, the books that are close at hand tend to matter to me a bit more than the ones that stray to the outer limits of the shelf. It's this immediate access that brought to my attention the curious name of a book that I frequently refer to, Neufert Architects' Data. I've preferred it over Architectural Graphic Standards, the more common book here in the US, for some time but was never quite sure why.

In its own right this name is interesting for the fact that the architects are plural; this is a book for the use of a discipline. It's not an architect's book, it belongs to the whole lot of them. Can the simple title of a book bind a profession? But it's also revealing to compare this, the European standard for typical dimensions and other fundamentals of building design, to the North American equivalent, Architectural Graphic Standards.

By name alone1 it would seem that the two contain vastly different information. While AGS claims an authority on convention, specifically to define the conventions of architectural drawing (and thus the specification of making), Neufert has decidedly more modest goals. Rather than proclaiming weighty standards, Neufert seeks to arm the reader with data, that most essential precondition for forming an opinion. This difference is borne out in the contents as well. Whereas AGS provides tables of standard dimensions, typical drawings for a number of generic conditions, and abstract guidelines, Neufert bookends the abstract and the typical with the microscopic and the built.

In addition to typical layouts for a dining room (p. 255) you will find seemingly superfluous drawings of four different place setting types and a guide to cutlery, all properly dimensioned. The very rawness, the exact quality that makes it seem extraneous, is what also makes it a powerful resource because it avoids assumptions about the problems its readers are trying to solve. Opposite these minutiae, one also finds examples from built work that serve to demonstrate the application of this data. With great efficiency, Neufert compresses abstract ideals, typical conditions, minutiae, and the messy contingencies of reality all into one volume.

I guess that's why I favor Neufert. It's a resource in the truest sense: stuffed full of data waiting to be resolved into answers rather than static solutions shopped from its pages.

1. In reality the contents are more similar than the names would imply, save the two notable qualitative exceptions mentioned above.

2. On a whim I decided to cross post this to Archinect. My apologies to all 3 people out there who read both this website and Archinect school blogs.