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Architecture, Interior Design, Planning, Design, Home planing, AdditionsHere, we offer plans, help and advice about architecture, interior design and planning. We will answer basic quesitons for free so don't hesitate to send them.Our business is architecture, planning, interior design, and construction. We have offices in Italy and Southern California.We also offer drafting and 3D renderings to professionals. We work hourly or by fixed fee. Tell us about your project. Contact us: hmarch@hotmail.com and visit our main website http://www.hm-architects.com/

People Props for VectorworksVECTORWORKS PEOPLE PROPS A collection of props for Vectorworks using pictures of real people. To use them just load the file and select the symbol to place it in your drawing. Props take up very little file space and they always face the rendered view. To purchase them click on the links below. Use just a few of them once and the savings in time over making your own pays for them and you can use them as many times as you like. See a short video here: http://youtu.be/TfbmgxU8dJ0 NOTE: It is also available for previous versions of VW, let us know which one you need. Click on the purchase link and have People Props to use in minutes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review of Vectorworks 2010

Vectorworks 2010
Review by John Helm
Architect with Helm & Melacini Architects


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.

                                                                                                       Complex Models

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.

                                                                                                  Paste up Graphics

                                       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.


Before moving on to the details of the latest version we might discuss the reasons why one would want to upgrade from previous versions.  I’ve already recommended VW as a good choice or even the best choice, so if you are not already into CAD the choice is easy; buy the latest version.  But if you’ve been using the program for a while then of course there ought to be good reasons to spend the money to upgrade. From a purely economic standpoint I think there are two factors to consider.  Will the new version save you time, meaning money, and do you have enough cash flow during the current slow down to justify the extra expense.  Only you can answer the later question except that you may justify the expense by considering the time to learn new features and the fact that if work is slow you have the time to do it.  For the first factor I will discuss some features that are in the new version that I believe will more than justify the purchase by time saved.  It’s interesting to note that some of the most significant time savers are perhaps the least note worthy in terms of technical development or progress.

As an example of what may be a simple change (not being a programmer I admit I don’t know how simple this was technically) is the ability to change the origin, the rotation and scale of a hatch.  On a recent plaza project in Italy we had a variety of hatches all at various angles and scales.  We also needed to use the hatches in the detail drawings.  And the project underwent numerous changes in the pattern layouts.  As a result hatches were not associated; every hatch had to be redone for each area and each change which was a several step process requiring significant time.  Most of this time will be saved in the new version.  But I am disappointed that they haven’t made a way to make hatches three dimensional.   This would be very useful since as it is now one must copy the area hatched and then add a texture to make it show up in a 3D rendering.

Once you get used to using the dimension constraint manager it can save time and also potential mistakes. Walls can be moved and their dimensions update automatically.  You can also change the dimension and the wall itself moves, while at the same time the other dimensions in a string of dimensions also changes, as does the overall dimension.  One overall dimension changed and not forgotten as often happens when doing it manually might be worth the cost of the upgrade by itself.  You can also lock a dimension and its associated walls so that it can not be easily changed.  This would be very useful for those areas like hallways where minimum dimensions must be maintained.  Also one can save time in layout and design when starting a new project.  Walls can be placed in their approximate location and easily adjusted later, with adjacent walls updating automatically.

I think another big time saver will be the unified view tool which replaces the old stacked layers tool.  If you do a lot of 3D modeling then this is big.  Basically a unified view can be a model of the complete project.  From this view one can access any layer, and modify objects while in a 3D view.  There is no need to constantly switch back and forth from a model view to a design layer to elevations views etc.  It can all be done within a single unified view just switching between 3D, plan and elevations views.

In place reference editing can be a time saver but it depends a lot on how one uses the program.  It does not allow one to change referenced drawing files it only works on referenced resources.  I think this might be a big help in coordinating drawings on a large project and also on say an apartment project one might turn individual apartment plans into symbols which could be referenced from a master file and changed as needed.

There are several other features which when added together will allow additional time savings.  In viewport crops one can now see the entire drawing so there is no more guessing about where to put the crop lines.  I like the find resource capability, as I seem to spend lots of time finding symbols and other resources that seem to get placed most anywhere.  There is a new connect combine tool for multiple objects.  The automatic coordination of sheet numbers seems pretty cool.  Sheet numbers are coordinated with drawing numbers and updated automatically if changed in one instance. 

So my answer to the first question of economics is a pretty strong, it’s worth it.  Now what about some of the other changes and new or revised features?

Here I see a lot of good stuff.  And I don’t see anything changed for the worse, (a very important feature) but I do find some of the changes or new features somewhat of a work in progress.  For example file referencing has been updated.  From my testing of this feature, I see that it works pretty well in 2D but in 3D it seems unpredictable.  I tried to reference a floor plan onto a site plan in one case in the same file so it could be rotated.  It showed up fine in a 2D view but when I switched to a 3D view the referenced floor plan disappeared.  Another interesting thing is that when I referenced the same floor plan to the site plan in another file the same thing happened but also curiously when I turned off unified view and set it to active layer only, then changed to an isometric view, the dimension text showed up on the 3D view.  That is a good feature but one that is not supposed to happen.  I suspect that part of the problems I’ve had here are due to a lack of computing power, graphic card issues or not enough ram to handle larger complex models.  I have seen it work fine on a much simpler model than the one I made. I see the new planar graphics feature as a work in progress as well.  It would be much more useful if one could also project text and dimension callouts in 3D. But the ability to see a 2D site plan for example with a 3D model placed on it is very useful.  The active layer plane and screen plane views will take some getting used to and I’m guessing a bit of swearing.  The good news is that items made in one can be changed to the other with one mouse click.  This is one place where the new “magic wand” or select similar tool can be very useful.  You select the parameters from a list then click on one instance and all similar items are automatically selected.  The problem I have had with this is that I could not get it to select dimensions.  I had to revert to the old custom selection tool.  It may just be that I don’t know how to use it properly or that it’s not intuitive enough – isn’t that a great excuse for not knowing how to do something.

The wall sculpting tool is useful.  I was more excited about it before I tried it.  But I still like it.  I thought one could stretch the sides of a wall to, for example, fit it to some of the old odd shaped walls one finds in remodels.  That can be done but one has to build a 3D object and then combine it with the wall rather than change the wall itself.  The result is the same.  So far the new stair tool seems great.  One has many more options as to how the stair will be constructed.  But on my first try, making a spiral stair it placed the railing across the upper end of the stair.  I haven’t yet figured out how to remove it, but there must be a way.  Corner windows are a nice little feature that I have wanted many times.  Cutting holes in walls has gotten much easier. 

One thing that I think we worry about is how well our old drawing files will convert when opened in the latest version.  So far I can see no problem here.  I have opened up some fairly complicated version 2008 files without any problems.  In fact I was pleased to see some tree symbols updated and looking much more photo like.  There also seems to be a decent increase in rendering speed.

Renderworks is one of the most important aspects of the program at least in the way I use it.  There have not been a lot of changes but the ones that have been made are important.  They have improved texture mapping and one can put one or more textures on top of each other to create labeling, signage and layered material effects.

Finally I think it’s important to address the issue of being able to transfer files to consultants and clients who need them in a format usable by Autocad.  So the question is does this upgrade make that easier.  The answer is a qualified yes.  One can batch export several sheet layers as individual files which when viewed in Autocad present themselves as formatted sheets that I believe could be printed easily.  The problem is that all the VW layers are stacked on top of each other so sorting them out for the Autocad drafter could be difficult.  The other option is to export VW saved views.  This seems to be a practical option if one needs to send say a floor plan to a consultant.  The resulting dwg file looks pretty clean. 

There are many other changes and additions that can best be reviewed by looking at the list on the VW website.  For example working planes are much easier to access, 3D snapping is improved and so it’s easier to select, modify and align objects in 3D. 

Overall this is very much a useful and worthwhile upgrade.   There are enough time saving features to justify the cost.  And the other improvements will just make one’s working life more pleasant.  That is of course after one learns to use them and gets over habits and work around’s used in past versions.

If you are considering updating or purchasing Vectorworks I would suggest having a look at the videos on the VW website, http://www.nemetschek.net/library/index.php  Jonathan Pickup’s website http://www.archoncad.co.nz  and his videos on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/archoncad and you can have a look at many 3D models I’ve created on my website www.hm-architects.com.

Finally here is a bit of a disclaimer.  I have tried to write an honest appraisal, but I will admit to wishing there were more users of the program I use in my practice because that would make it easier to work with consultants and to find employees who are already trained in using it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Passive Solar Heating and Cooling

and energy saving ideas.

By John Helm

These days all the talk is about saving energy and there are a lot of new as well as old systems to take advantage of the sun for heating and even cooling. Since my years in university I have been aware and have studied the various ways to take advantage of this free source of energy. The problem is that while the suns energy is there to be taken and used for free, the actual ways that we collect it and turn it into a form which is useable are generally not free and sometimes very expensive.

Over the years I have made many proposals to my architectural clients to implement various ideas into their projects. For the most part when the costs came in they resorted to the time tested and much less expensive standard forms of heating and cooling. The initial cost of the equipment can take many years to pay for itself and in the US at least where people tend to move often they don’t consider it a wise investment.

Therefore, in this short article I will restrict my comments to the things that we can do in our existing homes that require little or no costs and then I will discuss a few things we can do in our new homes to maximize the collection of the sun’s energy for heating and turn that around for cooling.

Existing Homes
We will start this little journey at the front door. Do you know that just putting a good door mat outside and a rug inside the exterior doors can save energy? Yes it can. Approximately 80% of the dirt we bring into our homes comes from our shoes. So just cleaning them before entering saves the extra time we would have to use the vacuum cleaner. Taking off the shoes and putting on house shoes or slippers will save even more.

Now I’m going to tell you some things you probably already know but I bet you don’t do them. Since I said no extra expense, I will stick to the things we can do just to maximize heating or cooling and minimize heat gain or loss without spending any money. The windows are generally the major tool here. They represent a hole in our walls when it comes to energy gain and loss. So they need to be managed. Assume you have curtains and better yet shutters that open and close. In the morning when the sun is out in the winter, open the south facing curtains or shutters while keeping the windows closed to let in the solar energy and open the doors of those rooms to the rest of the house. Keep the others closed until the outside air temperature warms up or you just can’t stand having them closed. As the sun passes reverse the process. At night shutter everything up.

If you have a fireplace, close the flue when you are not using it. Heat rises the open flue sucks the heat right out. On the subject of heat rising remember that it will rise to the upper floors on a two story house. If those floors contain the bedrooms, close the door leading to the stairs if you have them during the day or if no stair doors close the bedroom doors. There is no need to heat rooms not in use.

In the summer we reverse the above. Keep the south facing windows shuttered. Open the flue and open second floor windows that don’t face south.

Also keep in mind that hard surfaces such as tile and concrete absorb heat. This function can be used in winter and summer. If you have a tile floor for example expose it to the sun in the winter it will heat up a radiate the heat back out in the evening. In the summer protect it from the sun; you might even cover it with a rug but only in the summer. In the summer we can open all the windows in the night to cool the house and then promptly close them in the morning.

New Homes and Remodels
The most cost affective way to minimize energy use in new homes, when we remodel or make additions is to use the things we would build anyway in a way that is energy use conscious and does not add any or little to the cost. As before we start with windows for natural light north facing windows are great but that’s the worst location for heat loss or gain. They don’t see the sun. So it’s best to minimize them unless we are building an artists studio or they face a beautiful view. South facing windows are the one’s we want with hard surface floors facing them and concrete walls inside the house to absorb the heat to be radiated out in the evening. Skylights that can be opened bring in natural light and when opened in the summer allow the heat to rise out of the house.

Those big south facing windows are great in the winter as long as the sun is out; they are not so great when it’s not. So we should make some provision to cover them and of course they should be double glazed as should all the windows, even triple glazed in harsh climates. And what do you do about them in the summer? In the summer they must be shaded. This can be done several ways. We can shutter them, put up louvers or roll up awnings. Permanently shading them will eliminate their use for heating in the winter so don’t do that. One way we all know is to plant deciduous trees near them. Those trees will shade them in the summer and allow the sun to shine in during the winter as well as provide a nice appearance in the view and the yard.

Fireplaces can be a good source of heat if properly designed using outside air for combustion and some form of providing circulation of the heat generated. Glass doors allow radiant heat to pass while minimize the amount of heated inside air that rises up the flue. In the summer open the glass doors and the flue to allow the heat to flow out. Fans can be placed in the attic at little expense to draw out additional heat.

Let’s also not forget insulation, perhaps the very most important addition. Blanket insulation made of fiberglass is the least costly and in fact adds little to the overall cost. If one objects to the glass fiber there are also natural products made of wood and recycled cotton. Increasing the thickness of walls in wood frame construction allows increased insulation but at added cost though not that much in the overall picture. Another item to consider is using one of the modern house wrap products instead of the conventional tar paper. They seal the walls, but allow moisture to pass from the inside to the outside.

Finally let’s not forget the lighting. Windows, skylights and solar tubes can minimize the amount of lighting we need to turn on during the day. Proper placing of lighting for general purpose lighting as well as task lighting is important to minimize electrical usage. The use of fluorescent light wherever possible can reduce energy use by 2/3rds and as they become less expensive LED lights will bring consumption down even more.

So I have just touched a bit on the overall subject perhaps you, your architect and your contractor will be encouraged to use these ideas and think of more on your own.

Copyright 2009 by John Helm may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Adding space to or remodeling your home.

Room additions are a very poplar way to increase the size and value one’s home in the US. Here I will discuss the reasons why they are so popular and the various possibilities and uses for the added space.

First let’s think about the value of a home. Homes are typically priced based upon their size, the quality of construction, finish materials, number of bathrooms, size of the kitchen, and often most importantly the location. But size in any location is the final determining factor. When adding on sometimes the prime consideration is the cost of the new space. An advantage in this area is that the new space can be a type of space that adds substantially to the size and therefore the value of the home while at the same time being the least expensive space to build. Let me explain, the most expensive spaces one can add are bathrooms and kitchens, any thing involving plumbing and household appliances. So it fallows that if a home already has the basics, obviously they all have kitchens and bathrooms, then the most cost effective way to add value is to add simple spaces, for example, bedrooms, offices, family rooms and play or hobby areas.

Of course there are many other factors influencing one’s desire to remodel or add space, not the least of which would be the desire to have a nicer bigger kitchen, or perhaps a beautiful master bathroom. These items when one considers value do not generally give a full payback when one sells the home, but of course they do make it much easier to sell at full market value.

What are some of the additions that people tend to make to their homes. I will talk about a few of them. As in the above example simple spaces can be added to make a home more comfortable to live in and provide space for children, guests, hobbies or just everyday family activities. These rooms might be universal, that is adaptable to various uses that might change over the years as the family composition changes. Maybe a guest room before kids are born, a child’s room later and finally a room for elderly parents. These rooms might be accompanied by the addition of a small bathroom. Or one might add a large room adjacent to the existing living room that is open to the kitchen and becomes a family room. Another idea is to add a room above an existing garage or turn attic space into useable space. A space can be added most anywhere even if not made an integral part of the existing living space. This space might serve as an office for those who work at home, an artist’s studio, an exercise studio, a home theatre room, or just a universal space adaptable to needs as they arise. One might also add an enclosed patio for semi outdoor dining and entertaining; call it an indoor outdoor space.

Finally we can talk about the idea of adding a separate or semi separate apartment. These can take many forms. Perhaps one is just anther bedroom with a space for a small kitchen unit and a bath room. It could be a space where an elderly relative can be independent but still living within the main family home. Or one can add an apartment that is totally separate, maybe above the garage or in the back yard. Of course this apartment would have a multitude of potential uses, form being a work studio, to a rental unit or an apartment for an adult child or grandparents.

In the US it is also very popular to remodel an existing home with or without adding space. The remodel itself can take many forms. I will try to cover a few of them. The main reason people do it is to make an existing home more comfortable, more livable, better looking or perhaps to decrease overall energy consumption.

To make a home more comfortable and livable one might add or increase the size of windows, change flooring materials, put new cabinets in the kitchen along with new sinks and appliances. The same might be done in bathrooms. Built in bookshelves, closets and cabinets can be added. New lighting might make it easier to cook in the kitchen.

Making a home better looking which might also increase its value can include new exterior paint, revised trim on windows and doors, new exterior railings and new landscaping. In the interior one could do the same along with new floor coverings, new cabinets, etc. In fact many of the improvements in livability might also add to a homes value and appearance.

There can also be a big overlap in the area of energy consumption. When artificial lighting is improved the light fixtures used can be those that consume less. If windows are added or increased in size they might also reduce the need for artificial light during the day and they might also contribute to passive solar gain for heating purposes. Adding shutters to the exterior of windows can reduce the energy loss through the windows if the shutters are functional and closed, particularly during the night. Replacing carpet with tile can provide an energy storage base. High density materials like tile and concrete absorb heat and radiate it back during cool periods. Windows placed in an area where sunlight can heat the tile during the day makes this work. Shading devices over windows and exterior walls that can be adjusted or operate naturally during hot months can save on cooling costs or just help in providing a cooler interior. Landscaping functions here as well. Deciduous trees provide shade in the Summer and let the sun shine in during the Winter, if placed in front of South and West facing walls. Then there is of course the option of adding insulation. It’s most easily done in attic areas but can also be added to walls.

Finally one might wonder how does one accomplish any of the above changes and who should one ask for help. The simple solution is to hire a competent architect. One might think well I don’t really need an architect to do most of the above. I could just hire a contractor who will do the work or an interior designer, or maybe just go to a cabinet company to design my new kitchen or bathroom. There are two major reasons why the architect is the best source for all of this. The first is that the architect works for the client and only has his best interest at heart, he or she is not trying to sell anything other than services to the client. Sometimes the interior designer can fill this role but here often the designer is making his money by selling stuff, furniture, flooring, etc. and therefore profits most by selling lots of stuff. The other reason for hiring an architect is that the architect is trained by schooling and experience to be the most qualified person to see the overall picture. That is what architects do. They understand, planning, traffic flow – how spaces are used and connect to each other, construction, uses and functions of materials, peoples needs and desires for their living and working spaces, and they have a general understanding of mechanics, heating cooling, electrical, appliances, lighting, solar energy, etc. In general the architect is the one who can put all the pieces together. The architect may not do all of this himself, but he or she, knows enough about to be able to know when another expert, consultant, contractor or designer is needed and can coordinate all of their efforts.