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Apr 17

ARE – Building Design and Construction Vignettes

There are 3 ARE Building Design and Construction vignettes that make up part of the BDCS exam. This exam is one of the more challenging ARE exams because of the broad scope of materials that this test covers. Similar to the multiple-choice section of the exam, the BDCS vignettes will also cover a variety of issues to make sure that you know how to solve various issues within a building.

Similar to the SPD exam, you will have a specific amount of time to complete all 3 vignettes in any order that you choose. The NCARB software will allow you to switch back and forth between vignette sections even if you don’t fully complete it. In some ways this is nice because if you get stuck on one vignette, you can move on to another one and are still allowed to come back and fix the initial vignette.

The only issue that some candidates have with this organization of vignettes is that time management now plays a critical role. Since you have 2 hours, 45 minutes to complete all 3 vignettes, it’s very easy to lose track of time during the exam. If you happen to get stuck on one vignette, it may force you to panic and rush through other vignettes, which may lead to more mistakes.

To help avoid some of these mistakes, it’s highly recommended that you thoroughly prepare for each vignette individually at first and then as a group by the end of your preparation. It’s still important to treat each vignette individually so that you can keep the rules and techniques separate from the other vignettes. At the same time though, it’s important to practice taking all 3 vignettes in the designated time frame to see what it’s like to complete all 3 at once.

The 3 building design vignettes are all quite different in what they require you to do on the exam. Like I said before, it’s important to treat each vignette as a separate section while you are studying so you can keep track of everything without getting it confused with the other vignettes.

1) Ramp/Accessibility Vignette:

The ramp/accessibility vignette will test your skills in understanding and applying code restrictions when it comes to designing a ramp. You will be given program and code requirements and will be asked to design an efficient solution that meets all requirements.

Issues such as door swings/ramp slopes/handrail locations and ramp widths are all factors that will affect the design of your ramp. In addition to designing an accessible ramp, you may be asked to include a small stair that will address similar issues to the ramp.

For a more detailed explanation of the ARE ramp/accessibility vignette, see here.

2) Stair Design Vignette:

The stair design vignette is similar to the ramp/accessibility vignette in the fact that you are given a specific set of program and code requirements and asked to provide the most efficient solution to the problem. In this vignette, you are asked to design an stair that connects multiple levels of an existing building.

You will most likely encounter issues relating to headroom clearances/rise and run restrictions/area of refuge/stair widths and exiting requirements. Just like the ramp vignette, an efficient solution that meets all requirements is important since NCARB is not looking for design-winning solutions.

For a more detailed explanation of the ARE stair design vignette, see here.

3) Roof Plan Vignette:

The roof plan vignette is quite different from the other 2 BDCS vignettes because it addresses a variety of issues relating to the design of a roof. In this vignette, you will be given an existing floor plan and asked to design a roof that meets a variety of criteria.

Issues such as roof slope/removing water/allowing light and placing equipment will all be included in this vignette. This vignette section has many more requirements and elements to include compared to the other 2 sections so it is important to understand what needs to be included in your solution.

For a more detailed explanation of the ARE roof plan vignette, see here.


Since the ARE Building Design and Construction Vignettes consists of 3 different sections, managing your time will be one of the most critical issues when it comes to passing this exam division. The more familiar you are with these vignettes, the more comfortable you will feel the day of the test.
Coming up with efficient solutions quickly and accurately will be important when it comes to completing all 3 vignettes in the required time. NCARB does not care how pretty the solution is as long as it is efficient and it follows all code and program requirements. Keeping this in mind while you are preparing for the BDCS vignettes will be important.


Additional Tips & Practice Exams

For a full breakdown of the ARE Building Design and Construction Vignettes, please see the ARE Advisor eBook Series – BDCS Vignette that I’ve created to help you out. This ebook consists of step-by-step instructions, practice programs, and personal thoughts and advice to passing this section of the ARE.

Personally, I believe that many people fail exam divisions because they don’t spend enough time studying the ARE graphic vignettes. Granted, the multiple choice is just as difficult and time needs to be spent preparing for that section as well, but many people leave studying for the vignette until the last minute. These ebooks have been created to help better prepare you for the graphic vignette sections of the ARE.