Architect and Builders on a construction site examining a structural drawing.

The ArchiCAD Software:

Yes, you can draw structural drawings easily using any version of ArchiCAD. There are very many architectural and structural design softwares available in the market but ArchiCAD is one of the most common CAD software used in the architectural and construction industry.

ArchiCAD is a computer-aided design and building information modeling (BIM) software from a software company called Graphisoft that is used by urban planners, interior designers, architects, and engineers in both 2D and 3D designing.

As an architectural and structural draftsman, I use ArchiCAD to draw both my 2 and 3-dimensional drawings for various clients due to its clean workspace, a better-coordinated design, and a computer model based on the building process.

Advantages of Using ArchiCAD to Draw Structural Drawings

Outlined below are the best reasons why I prefer to draw structural drawings using the ArchiCAD software:

(I) ArchiCAD offers faster and smoother navigation between different opened windows.

With this function, you can be able to quickly switch in between two or more windows (for example, the architectural and structural windows), copy important design elements like walls, columns, beams, slabs, and the title block, from the initial architectural design plan and paste them to your new structural design plan. This is very important since in most cases, the architect designs the architectural drawing first, before handing it to the structural engineer to produce the structural drawings. Being a Builder or a jack of all trades, I find this smooth navigation very useful as I can draw the architectural drawing and immediately switch to its relevant structural design plan, copying the walls, columns, etc. This makes the structural design a faster experience as you don’t have to begin the layout from scratch.

(II) The Pen Set Tool

The Pen Set Tool in Archicad use for drawing structural drawings.
The Pen Set Tools in ArchiCad.

The other thing I find useful in drawing structural drawings using ArchiCAD is the pen sets features. In ArchiCAD, as we will see later on in this article, you can adjust the pen weight to suit your needs. For example, you can use a thick line to represent the reinforcement bars and a thin line for the concrete outlines.

How to Draw Structural Drawings Using ArchiCAD: The Steps Involved

How to import an external file to ArchiCAD details inside ArchiCAD.
Importing an external file to ArchiCAD.

When handed a structural drawing task from an already drawn architectural drawing using different software, you can import the drawn file into ArchiCAD by clicking File > Open…and then select the file you want to import to the ArchiCAD interface. While exporting files in ArchiCAD to different formats, you go to File > Save As…and select your preferred file format to export the file.

1. How to Draw the Foundation Details

After successfully importing the architectural drawing Into ArchiCAD, open a new ArchiCAD file where you will draw the structural drawing. You should have two windows open; the architectural drawing and the new structural drawing windows.

To begin drawing the foundation details in the structural drawing, the following steps are important:

a) Make sure to set your scale to your preferred one. I prefer to use 1:50 when drawing the foundation and the slab details layout plans. To change the scale, (the default is usually 1:100) click the current scale at the bottom left of the window and set it to 1:50, and press OK.

b) At the Design Tool, select Storey Settings and edit the number of stories in the structural drawings to be the same as the stories in the structural drawing.

c) In the architectural ground floor drawing, you can mass select a particular tool by going to the Design Tools and selecting the tool you want, in this case, select the wall, go to Edit at the top left corner and click Select All Walls. Repeat the same process to select all the columns, beams, and stairs.

d) Copy all the selected tools and paste them on the new structural drawing window at their original location.

e) Select all the doors and windows using the same method as before and delete them as they won’t be necessary for the structural drawing.

f) You can go ahead and delete any irrelevant walls, mostly non-load bearing walls such as washrooms and wardrobes partitions which will not be excavated as they will begin after the ground floor slab.

g) Use the beams as a guide to drawing the bases and strip foundation excavations lines. To do this, select all the beams and set their width to 600 (for 600 mm wide strips) and then de-select once done.

Next, double click the Beam Tool and set the width to the size of the base, for example, 1200 or 1500 mm. With the new beam width, draw a beam of length equal to your base length. Select the drawn beam by its center and drag it to the center of a column. You can name the column and the base as C1 and B1 respectively as shown in the diagram below.

Slab and beams detailing in a structural drawing.
Foundation details.

h) Copy and paste the beam representing the base, the C1, and the B1 to other columns and bases of the same design. Note: for different column and base designs, you will have to design different columns, their bases, and their name representations in the structural drawing.

i) Finally, select the Line Tool and select a pen of low weight like 0.20 mm, and using the Chaine Geometry Method, draw the foundation outlines by tracing the beams. Select all the beams and delete them. Place in the dimensions as required in the building drawings regulations.

2. How to Draw the Column and Stairs Details

Drawing the columns and stairs is slightly easy as you will mostly use the Line Tool and the Fills Tool. It is always recommended to draw them on a slightly lower scale like 1:25.

While drawing columns and stairs in different structural drawings tasks, it is advisable to save them for future use as you may need the same designs in another task. It will then be easy to copy and paste them while adjusting them to the new design requirements.

Column details in a structural drawing.
Columns details in a structural drawing.

To avoid interfering with the 1:50 scale of the foundation layout details, open a new ArchiCAD window and follow the following steps:

a) Change the scale to preferably 1:25.

b) Choose the Line Tool and select lightweight pens for concrete, beams, and slabs outlines, and heavy pens for the mild steel bars, that is, the bases bars, the columns bars, and the stirrup bars.

c) Use the Fill Tool to draw the circular representation of the columns main bars in the column sectional plans, i.e using the Circle Tool under the Documents Bar, draw a circle of a corresponding diameter to the main bars, draw a square black Foreground Fill inside the circle and on selecting the fill sides, use the Arc Tool to make it a circle. The circular fill should represent the main bars in the columns. The same procedure is used to draw the beams and stairs bars in their corresponding sectional details. You should then use a Structural Concrete Fill to fill in space inside the concrete outlines to represent the concrete.

d) Dimension the columns as in architectural drawing, editing the dimension when needed by moving the cursor to the dimension text, hold shift, left-click the text, then right-click inside the text (or press Ctrl and T) and edit the dimension text to read as you want, for example, you may type, ‘DEPTH TO BE DETERMINED ON SITE’ in place of the foundation depth dimension.

3. How to Draw the Slab and Beams Details

Beam and Slab Details in a Structural Drawing.

To use the ArchiCAD to draw structural drawings for the slab and beam details, follow the steps below:

a) On the architectural drawing window, select the first-floor slab, beams, and columns and copy them. This is assuming it’s a typical floor for all the other corresponding stories.

b) Paste them on the structural drawing containing the foundation layout details but on a different higher floor level where the columns from the foundation layout details won’t interfere with the slab details. Note: you can also change the height of the columns on the foundation layout details to just end in the ground floor level.

c) Trace the outline of the slab using a lightweight pen and then delete the slab.

d) As a structural engineering draftsperson, you know the recommended slab layout design, and your work will be to select a pen of thick weight and draw the reinforcement bars as they would appear on site.

e) After drawing the appropriate bars, that is the Bottoms 1 and 2, Tops 1 and 2, Peripheral ties, Cantilevers, etc., dimension them in order of how they span. Use the Label Tool to label them for example 22Y12-101-200B1, which too means, 22 pieces of mild steel 12 mm diameter bars placed at a spacing of 200 mm center to center as the Bottom most layer with a bar number 101.

f) For a bar similar to the one in step (e), select its dimension text and edit the text to read 22-101. This will indicate that it’s similar to the one labeled in step (e) above. You can do the same only changing the number of pieces as per the span the reinforcement bar runs.

g) Using the Text Tool, label the respective beams and provide a detailed section of each corresponding beam. Use the circular fill to represent the main beam bars, a thick weight pen for the stirrups, and of course, a lightweight pen for the concrete outlines. Fill the interior of the beam section with a Structural Concrete Fill to represent the structural concrete in the beams.

h) Dimension the slab layout plan as required to make the work of builders easier on the ground.

4. Master Layout in Structural Drawings

Since you have drawn the structural drawings using different scales, i.e. 1:25 and 1:50, it will be important to save the drawings in the Master Layout.

You should use the structural drawing of 1:50 scales containing the foundation layout details on the ground floor and the slab layout details of another floor level of the same interface. Open the Master Layout settings and select your preferred paper sizes. Next right-click in the empty layout and place the corresponding floors containing the drawings.

While doing this, it is important to make sure you delete any other irrelevant drawing on these floors as the Master Layout will portray everything in a particular floor level.

To place the drawing on the 1:25 scale interface, copy and paste them directly to the Master Layout. You can adjust the layout arrangement; add the title block and any other relevant drawings required, for example, foundation cross-sections, hood details, arch details, etc. saved from other previous structural drawings.


Architectural and structural draftsmanship is a serious profession and while referring to this guide on how to draw structural drawings using ArchiCAD, it is important to adhere to the relevant regulations of each professional body.

To Draw a Floor Plan…

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