TechsPlace | Until the mid-nineties, architects had to use pen and paper to draw their projects. For obvious reasons that could prove to be very unpractical especially when those projects become more and more complicated. Thankfully, these times are behind us. With the advent of computers and the Internet, architecture has become digitalized and planning our projects has become easier, more reliable, and faster than ever. Architectural software has many shapes, forms, and purposes. Price, features, and quality are some other factors to consider, out of many. The first tools associated with this industry focused on helping architects to address the logistical issues with having numerous drawings that any sizable project needs. Today, they do so much more than that. These tools are providing users with new workflows, new elements such as structural analysis and evacuation management, etc. The possibilities of tri-dimensional architecture software are limitless. Here are some pieces of software that would serve any architect, no matter the level of skill.
SketchUp has been a favorite piece of software for creating architectural conceptual drawings. What stands out is the enormous support for extensions. These plugins bring it very close to BIM software. In a sense, it allows us to compile our own custom software that fits our own personal needs. An all of this at a fraction of the cost compared to some other 3D architecture software. For instance, PlusSpec is a commercial plugin that enables comprehensive BIM features. It makes it easy to create a complete bill of quantities and also outputs two-dimensional construction plans. OpenStudio is a free one that serves the goal of energy efficiency in buildings. This is a feature specific for BIM software solutions. Based on the information we input, it can calculate the use of various kinds of energy. Further, it is broken down for an entire year or even a month. Of course, we can refine the results with additional information any way we please. Lastly, 4D Virtual Builder brings other aspects of BIM software to SketchUp. This plugin allows us to plan our project through an entire life-cycle, rather than one point in time. It lets us create animations, diagrams, and renders. This allows us clear communication between the different stages of the project and the teams involved in realizing them. The basic version of SketchUp is free of charge. The Pro version does come with a price tag, but also with additional features that make it worth it.
ArchiCAD is an all-around two and tridimensional application that is used to provide a complete image of a project in all aspects. Output, modeling, rendering, and 2D construction documents, just to name a few. Any changes that we make are updated in all aspects, such as plans, elevations, 3D modeling, etc. ArchiCAD stores all information about a building in a central database. Any changes made are updated in all other, separate views. Even though this software accounts only for a small percentage of the market, it is making a big impact. Among many professionals, the biggest concern is the single database file structure.
This piece of software is made by the well-known Autodesk and is the standard by which all CAD software programs are made and compared. These occupy by far the greatest market-share for professionals than any other software program available. These programs are very powerful and it can take someone years to master all of their features. It is easy to get stuck in the features that we currently already know than to dig deeper. If used properly, with sheet setups and reference files, our workflow can be very efficient, even compared to most other software alternatives, ultimately making it a popular choice with re-sellers such as Cadgroup.
This is more of a new type of 3D architecture software. It can produce designs based on a set of parameters that we can put in. Originally it was pushed by Autodesk but was ultimately published under an open-source license. The building design is done by inputting and programming all the relevant parameters without actually writing bare code. The code that users combine is represented with a graphical interface. The program and supporting technique are intuitive and easy to get started with. This piece of software is available as a free and as a commercial version with a price tag. Note, the free version is an extension to Autodesk Revit. The commercial version, Dynamo Studio, is a stand-alone program.
To conclude, what we actually end up using is dictated by multiple variables. User friendliness, particularities in our company, company policies, or just plain personal preference. Our workflow needs to be efficient, accurate to the smallest detail, secure, and redundant. The good thing about these programs, as we have, seen is that they can be used in large design firms, as well as everyday consumers. Provided we have the know-how. So, pick your poison and get familiar and intimate with it in order to make your projects a reality.