Computers and all things considered, the fact of the working hardcopy is still a point of departure where architecture is concerned: paper as the means for communicating usable information directly and securely to builders is the primary means whereby construction is still made possible. This fact potentially places the size A4 paper sheet at the cutting edge of construction documentation for the simple reason of logistics: it is the smallest known, commonly sized sheet deemed acceptable for the transmission of document information by fax machine. The A4 is as readily available as toilet paper in the form of packaged boxes, and as scrap and recycled sheets for immediate printing or drawing use.
However, the ubiquitous A4 works most efficiently only through the tailoring of design development and management to fit. And if it would appear shocking to have the design management of one's architectural practice planned around a paper size, the truth of the matter will be found to lie in a deeper understanding of what constitutes the clearest method of communicating with builders. Architects are trained to think in plans and sections, and with as much detail as can be fitted into each construction drawing. This commonly results in drawing sheets filled to capacity for any given building scale, to the effect that the need for legibility simply favours larger drawing sizes over smaller sheets. Taking aside the consideration of the few truly large drawings required for the overall layout of project masses over large tracts of land, every single other aspect of a project can be made to fit within the happy confines of an A4. The fact is, that as contractors specialise in constructing, so architects have to provide information as cleanly and clearly to the builders: large drawings require so much deciphering, whole teams are commonly employed by contractors to sort out the informational landmine architectural drawings have become. The answer requires architects, not contractors, to coordinate information and to streamline the type of information in any one drawing to specific trades or conditions: it involves reducing the known quantity of the information desired for communication, to a series of small projects.
Consider. The huge building sections so much a part of our construction process, really boil down to the basic dimensions for heights between floor levels, of window lintels and sills from floors, and specific information where floors and ceilings meet; all of which can be drawn or diagrammed, for study or record, on an A4. Less rectilinear building forms can be reduced to diagrams and geometries for resolution, and even some of these are superfluous, since structural drawings have taken over where architectural form has become too complex. The large drawing sheets used for door and window schedules can be replaced with recycled sheets of A4 size, each sheet corresponding to one door or window; large sections can be simply reduced to the junctions where distinct conditions meet, once again, on A4 sized paper. Every bit of information that we have come to expect to find on large format drawings can, in fact, be reduced or disassembled onto A4 sheets, each containing specific information of their specific purposes. The ramifications of this simple operational shift are significant.
With drawing information broken down into packets that can be worked on independently of computer use, the playing field changes completely. Corrections and amendments that can be made directly on easily duplicable A4 sheets are faxed with equal facility, the same fact that eliminates the time incurred by the printing of large-format drawings with a special machine, and subsequent delivery. Information transfer by fax is unaffected by proximity, rendering a courier service unnecessary. With the relay of information by manually corrected A4's, the time saved by eliminating the amendments and printing by computer, and delivery of large drawings by hand, equates to weeks, in any construction schedule. The ultimate surprise which the A4 holds for us, however, is the simple fact that by virtue of its size, only select drawing information can ever be recorded in its format, resulting in every individual drawing being claimed for the specificity of each particular detail; simply put, every design development aspect of a project is given significance with use of the A4, with less, subsequently, being left to chance.