this is a blueprint - it is quite old as we do not make blueprints anymore

this is a blueprint - it is quite old as we do not make blueprints anymore

Back when I was in high school I had the opportunity to spend the day with a group of firefighters. We rode out on a couple of emergency calls and for the record, riding in a firetruck with the lights on and the sirens blaring is just as awesome as you might imagine it would be.

I remember most of the rest of their day being spent inside the firehouse waiting for calls to occur. The men (and they were all men) would their check equipment, cook their meals and when there was nothing else to do, they would watch movies on HBO. As might be expected, action movies were a particularly popular genre and my mustached friends seemed to derive great enjoyment in pointing out that most all explosions were depicted incorrectly. Apparently there is far too much fire in most Hollywood fireballs.

As an architect I similarly enjoy the occasional chuckle when films get something wrong that I'm in a unique position to understand. Air conditioning ducts, for example, are rarely large enough to crawl through and even so aren't designed to support the weight of a person. And so things would have not gone well when John McClane crawled into that ventilation duct in Die Hard. And as we've already established, the subsequent explosions would have looked much less cool.

But movies are movies and fudging some details to tell an engaging story is completely understandable. But there's one thing I really can't stand. Part of me dies on the inside whenever a character makes reference to a "set of blueprints."

The issue is that this particular term has made it's way into the general parlance. A client, for example, will ask "How long will it be until I get a set of blueprints?" The problem is the term is both inaccurate and imprecise. It would be like asking an author for "a stack of mimeographs" when what you need is a copy of their manuscript.

To be technically correct, "a blueprint" is a reproduction of a drawing made by shining light through a drawing made on a translucent material (such as vellum) onto a second sheet of light-sensitive paper coated with a mix of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferrocyanide. The light-sensitive paper is exposed differently depending on where the light was blocked by the lines of the original drawing and a negative of the original is created where the white of the original is replaced with a dark blue of the copy - hence the name "blueprint".

"Whiteprints" were introduced in the 1940s. The process was similar to that of blueprints but simpler and less expensive. And instead of the resulting copy being produced with white lines on a blue background, blue lines were produced on a white background. These whiteprints were easier to read and you could write notes on the white background much easier than on a dark blue one.

When I was in architecture school in the late  1990s, we still used whiteprints (although just to make this story a little more confusing, we called them "bluelines"). There was a large diazo copier in the basement of Goldsmith Hall and one of my main tasks at my first summer job at an intern architect was to run to Miller Blueprint on West 6th Street to make copies of drawing sets.

It should be noted that Miller Blueprint has since moved and rebranded itself as "Miller Imaging and Digital Solutions".

Anyways, even when I went to Miller as a student, technology was already changing again and places like Miller began offering large format photocopies. In addition to being even simpler than earlier methods, the xerographic process is much more permanent (whitelines, for example, tended to fade when exposed to daylight on a job site).

Of course, another common mistake is to refer to a set of drawings as "plans". Plans are a type of drawing, but a typical drawing set contains many others (elevations, sections, details, etc.). But that's another blog post for another day.

But whatever you do, just don't call them blueprints. If you do, my head might explode in a way that firefighters might not like.