Using Evernote as a shared architectural precedent library

Evernote logoI’ve been using Evernote for nearly four years and in this time it’s become an invaluable tool for organising my life. Quite honestly I don’t know how I would manage without it or, for that matter, how I managed before.

As I’ve become more familiar with Evernote, I’ve found more and more interesting ways in which to use it, and we’ve now begun rolling it out across our office in attempt both to reduce the amount of paper we get through as well as making us more efficient. Presently we use a series of Evernote Sponsored Groups as an informal resource, but are investigating ways in which we can formalise its use as part of our office management systems.

In the meantime, though, we’ve found a number of useful ways in which Evernote can help us be much more efficient.

We have a fairly substantial office library. Whilst it’s great to be able to carry vast numbers of digital documents around on a phone, there’s nothing quite like being able to leaf through a beautiful architectural monograph looking for inspiration.

Architects rely heavily on precedents - examples of buildings which employ a particular material or detail, or the expression of an idea. In the past, when we’ve come across such an example, either online, in the press or in a publication, we’ve scanned or copied the relevant images into a file on our server. The dilemma has always been: how to we organise this information? According to the designer? The type of building? It’s geographical location?

Evernote has helped us solve this problem…we can organise this resource using all of the above criteria, and more.

We’ve created a shared notebook called RCKa Precedents, into which everyone in the office can contribute the interesting things that they find. They are then able to include more information about each scheme to make it easy to find by assigning tags to describe the types of materials used, the architectural concepts or the use of the building.

The great thing about shared notebooks is the fact that the notebook owner can define what tags can be used. Without this feature we could end up with different tags for materials (timber instead of wood, for example, or masonry instead of bricks) so that there is consistency across the whole database. We can even tag the projects with a geographical location if we know where in the world it is.

House on the Mountainside

Here’s an example. This beautiful residential project by Fran Silvestre Arquitectos in Ayora, Spain is definitely a project we want in our precedent library.

The excellent Squared+ modern architecture blog has a great collection of images and drawings, and we’ve grabbed a few of these to include within our precedent library using the Evernote Web Clipper. Once this has synced down to our Evernote desktop client, and sorted into the RCKa Precedent Database, we start to add the designer’s details, location (in this case, the exact location obtained from Google Maps - right-clicking on the map location and then selecting “what’s around here?” will provide you with the precise coordinates), and most importantly, tags.

The use of tags is the key factor in making the database searchable. We have created a series of tags based on site headings: project type; architectural concept, materials, features, site and structure (I’m sure we’ll add more in the future).

With each of these headings, we have created further sub-headings. For example, under project type we have “Type: Gallery”, “Type: Library”, under materials, “Materials: Brick”, “Materials: Render" and so on (the prefix for each tag is useful as it means that when adding the tag in Evernote only a small range of tags appear). The house above might, then, have the following tags: "Type: Residential - One-Off House”, “Materials: Render" etc.

Now that the precedent library is well established, we are able to search for inspirational buildings according to a number of criteria. Searching for examples of private houses built in brick will quickly bring up several examples, whereas previously we would have had to rely on the collective knowledge within the office and then search through pages of journals and publications to find a project which fits the bill.

Tags: Evernote