Review by John Helm
Architect with Helm & Melacini Architects
CHOSING A CAD PROGRAM
My first thought on writing a review of an update to an existing CAD program is that the readers of the review won’t just be those already dedicated to the program and wanting to know if the upgrade is worth the expense and time to learn new features, but they might also be those looking to change programs or even those architects and others just starting out in their use of CAD. So I’ll first address some issues regarding the choice of which program or programs one might use. I’m also limiting most of my comments to the use of a program by an architect because that’s what I am and it’s what I know.
My approach to the use of the computer is that it should be a tool that makes ones work easier and allows one to be more productive and more creative. An Architect should be able to focus his or her attention on the business of being an architect and as not have to spend months or even weeks to learn to use a new tool. I also believe that in an office there should not be a huge separation between those who know how to use the most important tools in the office, for example the CAD program, and those who don’t.
This brings me to what I consider the most important factors in choosing a CAD program. That is that the program should be easy to learn, intuitive, and available to everyone working on any particular project. It should be available and easy enough to use that the principals, who don’t have a lot of time to spend getting competent on a CAD program, as well as the drafters are able to learn it and use it. And in short it brings me to why I selected a program like Vectorworks some 15 years ago. I can’t really comment on other programs which may or may not do the same things as Vectorworks because I only have second hand information on them and only a limited use of the most popular program Autocad. I should also mention that in order to fit the above criteria one should not have to use several programs to accomplish the goal of producing a drawing or drawing set containing 2D, 3D, text and pictures. That increases the time to learn, adds too many layers of complexity and creates inefficiency in the office.
Here is where we get to my choice of Vectorworks (VW). From the standpoint of graphics it can be a one stop shop, for an architectural office. It’s a design tool, a production tool and a rendering tool that can also be used for most of the graphic layouts an architect might need. The learning curve is short and the way of working with it is from my experience the way architects work.
VW is a complex program and to take advantage of its many features does take some time. But if one is at all competent in using a computer, familiar with Mac or PC graphics programs, word processing, etc. one will find many of the same commands, and procedures. So it presents a familiar face in a way. Starting out just using the basics is simple enough and gives one a feeling of confidence that moving beyond the basics can’t be that hard.
Rendered Site Plans
Design can be done all in 3D and those 3D drawings will be or can be the same drawings that become the 2D drawings making up the production drawing set. Client presentations can be rendered printouts, animations, walk throughs, or even real time views of a 3D model taken on one’s laptop to a client meeting. And if one needs to do a graphic presentation, a competition board for example, pictures, text, 2D and 3D drawings can all composed and printed right in the program
Create almost anything
In other words, why burden yourself and your office with half a dozen programs when one will do it all. Yes there are other programs that will do some of the individual parts as well or better, but VW can compete with most of them and the results are more than adequate for the majority of what we do as architects.
I’ll talk for a minute about how VW works. Initially we set up a project file entering basic information about floor heights, wall heights, roof etc. Then we set up basic project parameters, dimension style, meters, vs feet, things like that and then from a drop menu we select the various sheets of drawings needed. That would be things like floor plans, site plan, elevations and so on. We don’t have to do this in any order and they can be changed later. But by doing this the program does a lot of the work of preparing the drawing set for us. We draw on design layers, we put things like electrical outlets, and windows in classes that can be turned on or off as needed. We use the layers as overlays to create various drawings. Drawings are then transferred though viewports to sheets for the final composition of sheets of drawings to be printed. All of this is done in one file which saves a lot of confusion and makes things simpler. If more than one person needs to work on a drawing set, this can be done through the use of references to other drawings called referenced viewports. When drawing a building plan we draw walls, not just lines, that have characteristics such as height, thickness, and finishes, which means that as we draw the 2D plan we are at the same time creating a 3D model. I can go on here but this isn’t an instruction manual it’s just a brief idea of how the program works.
Finally one thing I always hear is, well we had to choose the program our consultants use or that everyone else uses. To this I say who’s in charge here the architect or the consultants. And do you really want to burden yourself with an inefficient program just because most everyone else is using it. Why not get a step ahead and increase your bottom line with greater efficiency. Of course you can also convert your VW drawings to a format useable by your consultants so it’s not such a big issue anyway.
Construction documents with plans, elevations and renderings.
Note that the renderings and plans show above were all done in our office using various previous versions of VW.