What we offer

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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Photovoltaic Plant a Great Investment

After some months of bureaucratic processing and as soon as the land dries out a bit we will start the construction of our 100kw photovoltaic plant. This is a ground based project, a good contribution to clean and safe energy. The thing that is really interesting about this is that it is such a good investment. Briefly it will have an internal rate of return of around 21% over a 20 to 30 year life span, when done on land already owned. And the income is guaranteed by the Italian government and ENEL a large European power company. A big portion of the income comes from incentives. There is a positive cash flow from day one and the initial investment will be paid back in around four years. The incentive is for 20 years and the life of the panels is around 30 years or more. So power can be sold even after the incentive ends. This also based upon 30% equity and a loan for 15 years.

Our role in all of this has been to be the architects of the project for clients who are family members. We will manage the plant over its lifespan, assuming ours is the same. Through this process we have become pretty much experts in the overall picture. We have done the paper work, the overall plans, the hiring of the contractor/supplier, and the electrical engineer. Now we will oversee the construction.

We now know that this is a good opportunity as an investment, but at the same time it is not so easy to implement. We realize that our knowledge could be of use to others and though it is not exactly architecture it is the kind of service that we could offer as architects based upon our own experience not just in this project but in all phases of dealing with government agencies and taking something from the idea to the final construction. This after all what we do as architects. So contact us if you any interest in such a project anywhere in Italy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review of Vectorworks 2011

Vectorworks 2011 – Architect & Renderworks

Review by John Helm

Architect with Helm & Melacini Architects


I write this review mostly from a personal level as someone who has been using VW for 15 years or so. I am an architect so I focus mostly on how it relates to architectural work.

First a few notes about Vectorworks (VW)

Vectorworks is the all-around cad program for architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, theater lighting designers and design in general. From the standpoint of graphics VW 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 the way architects work. 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 trough’s, 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 be composed and printed right in the program.

Vectorworks 2011

I have had the program for a few weeks now and have used it to do one new project and to continue on with a project previously started in version 2010.

Nemetschek the parent company of the Vectorworks program changed the name this year to Nemetschek Vectorworks. I take that as a good sign; a sign that they really want to identify with it and thus make it the best they can. In announcing this year’s upgrade they are calling it their biggest ever. I can’t be a judge of that but it does sound good, and tends to make one think it’s a must have upgrade. So let’s think about that for a moment.

The biggest bit of news is that they have replaced the rendering engine in Renderworks with CINEMA 4D. And they have created an easy integration with the actual CINEMA 4D program. This is a really big improvement especially for anyone wanting to take their models to a very high level. At the level I work at the major difference I have seen is the speed of rendering. VW claims a 5 to 7 times increase in speed; I just know it is faster. One can set several levels of rendering quality for custom Renderworks. So setting it at the lower levels helps those who have slower computers get a good rendering in a short time. One problem I have had is that importing from version 2010 windows made with the window tool don’t render. I had to remake them. That’s something I think needs fixing. With yearly upgrades one ought to be able to just install the new program and continue working on older files. Other than this one problem I haven’t had any other issues importing version 2010 files.

The other big thing is what they call 2D/3D integration. VW has for a long time been a very flexible program allowing one to create just about any 3d form. But now with this integration of 2D and 3D the program is even more flexible and easier to use for preliminary design. I know there are people who design in Sketch Up and import into VW. Now I think the Sketch Up part can be eliminated. It’s just as easy to design in VW. 2D objects automatically become 3D as well. One can use the new push pull tool to stretch objects to whatever size they need to be and then change them interactively. And there are many other 3D tools that have been added or improved to make working in 3D from the start of a project easier.

I received the full design series gratis to enable me to write this review. The package arrived with three small books including DVD’s which are for the most part tutorials for each of the main sections: Architect, Spotlight, and Landmark. They also included a DVD with various movies and descriptions of the new features. What is missing is a book describing all the features and how to use them. The tutorials are great for someone learning the program or someone who has the time to go through them. I was surprised to see that only the Spotlight book talked about the modeling features. I’m not sure what one gets if one doesn’t buy Spotlight. I’d like to see an old fashioned book (or at least a cd version of one) for those of us who have to or want to just get to work and read about new features as time permits without having to go through a bunch of lessons. The built in help feature does make up for this to some extent and so does the included DVD.

I won’t try to describe every new feature. One can find them on the VW web site. I will just touch on a few that stood out for me. I mentioned the push/pull tool -very handy. Extract planar objects has tons of uses. For example I made a pretty complex model then my partner asked me to calculate the surface areas of some odd shapes. I just extracted a polygon from the surfaces then in object info found the area. One can also use this to put hatches on various 3D objects.

The new slab tool, improved automatic sections and 3D wall components takes VW to the next level of BIM. One can create a realistic slab and it integrates with the walls. Also the slab can be made automatically just by selecting the perimeter walls and fitted to the inside or outside of them. Have you ever needed to show a wall with a wainscot or layer of brick on the outside that was not full height? Now you can by adjusting the heights of various wall components. That is a big time saver. Here is the reason I have not used the wall tool in the past except in its basic from – two lines filled. When we do construction drawings we dimension to the outside of the framed wall, not the outside of say a layer of plaster or brick, because those are the dimensions the framer needs to do his layout. Now one can set the wall control line relative to the core component, that is for example the framed wall. Both horizontal and vertical dimensions can also be made to show up in a final rendered view.

I like the way they made it easier to access symbols, textures and other resources. Now there are shortcuts that take one directly to the VW libraries, workgroup or user folders. No more hunting around each time one needs a new resource.

Another thing I found very useful is the ability to link a camera view to a viewport and to be able to create a viewport of a 3D view directly from the drop down menu. One can change the camera view right from the viewport. This is great for making up a sheet with various views of the model in 3D.

I’ve read that there are more than 70 improvements in usability and that many long-time wishes have been addressed. I can’t write about all of them; in fact I don’t know what they all are. It’s best if you go to the web site www.vectorworks.net/2011 where you can look at the new features for each product as well as view feature movies.

Do I think this is the must have upgrade? Yes, I think it is because it really is a leap forward and an improvement in these areas:

· 3D rendering and presentations using the CINEMA4 rendering engine

· Improvements in BIM that make it even more a real BIM program

· Integration of 2D and 3D

· A big list of 2D design and drafting improvements and time savers

I also say this even though I’m not a big believer in the yearly upgrade idea. If a program does the job, why should one have to repurchase it every year. So, buying the upgrade then depends on what one gets for one’s money. It seems to be worth it this time.

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 (done with older versions) on my website www.hm-architects.com.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review of Cameramatch for Vectorworks 2011
From Panzercad http://www.panzercad.com/

By John Helm
Helm & Melacini Architects

How’s business? If it’s good or bad you may want to consider buying this add on for Vectorworks (VW). If you are busy then it will save you time and if business is not so good then it might just give you an edge up on the competition and help you get more work.

Every project that we architects do has a site. The site might be an empty field or an infill property with existing buildings all around. It could also be an existing building with work done on the outside or the inside. These days many of us are designing in 3D creating nifty little models of our work that often just float around in space with no reference to the actual site other than of course the 2D site plan. Or we may create the site and its surroundings virtually. But for the client and for the completion of the design process what could be more illustrative than to see the new structure on a photo of the actual site.

This can be done using VW importing a picture and then matching the exact angle/perspective of the picture with a 3D view of the VW model. It’s not too difficult if we know the exact position of the camera, the angle, the focal length, etc. of the imported picture. But I can tell you from my own experience that what might not seem too difficult can take hours of messing around and trial and error to get a result that even seems close to reality. This is assuming you know the details of the imported photo listed above, but what if the client just hands you a picture taken from some random location.

Cameramatch solves all of these problems and once one learns how to use the program the “photo” of the site combined with the model of the proposed project can be accomplished in minutes using just about any random photo not hours. Time savings on just one of these should more than pay for the $100 cost of the program and from then on it’s just more money in your pocket.

Now I have to admit that I have had a few start-up issues. The instructions, who wants to read instructions, are detailed and one must read them and fallow them. One must also be familiar with the base program, which in this case is the latest version of VW. Cameramatch is also available for earlier versions. I have been at fault in both cases. I just got the new version of VW and I don’t really like fallowing instructions. I know I’m not alone otherwise they wouldn’t have a quick start guide in just about everything we buy these days.

As an example here are before and after photos of a little house we are working on in the Czech Republic. It’s actually a teardown and rebuild of an existing structure attached to another house. The photo used was taken at random by the client. We have not even been to the site.

This was just my second attempt at using the program; so don’t think that it’s the best that can be done with the program. Go to the site www.panzercad.com and look for some examples done by others to get a better idea of the true potential of the program.

The program, as is VW, is available for both the Mac and the PC. As with all the latest versions of most software, the more computer power you have the more smoothly the program will work. Cameramatch and VW are no exceptions they both seem to like my new laptop using Windows 7 with lots of ram a lot better than my older XP PC. But I am able to get the same result with both computers; it just takes longer on the old one and it gets a bit fussy when it starts to run out of ram.

So the bottom line is that this program provides you with an additional tool that will help you with your design, give your client a true picture of how his project will look on its site when finished and save you time and money. So buy it; it’s a bargain.

I close with a quote from Matt Panzer and suggest that if you really want to get a good idea of what the program does visit his website; you can also download a free trial version:

“Some CM (CameraMatch) users have made CM part of their normal workflow for every project. The clients love it because they immediately understand how the design fits into the existing structure or site. And early stages of the project benefit since the designer only needs to model the proposed parts in detail.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review of "Remarkable Renderworks

“Remarkable Renderworks” by Daniel Jansenson

Review by John Helm, Architect

Renderworks is the rendering program that runs within the Vectorworks CAD program which is available for both the pc and mac operating environments. I have been using Vectorworks and Renderworks on a pc for something around 15 years and I have done some pretty decent rendering with it. So I feel fairly qualified in the program and not so much in need of a book aimed primarily at the new user of the program. But, having said that, I found myself reading it page by page, going through the examples one at a time and along the way learning a few new tricks and about some features of the newer version of the program that I had not already picked up.

Jansenson has done a great job of breaking down the program into its components and taking the student of the program step by step through all the basic features. He provides examples already drawn on a disk included with the book and refers to them so that one does not have to draw and then try but can simply open a file and fallow his list of steps. He also passes along realistic tips on such things as how to keep a rendering manageable time wise. It’s great to have a program that can do highly realistic rendering which this program can do, but in the real world most of us don’t have the computing power nor the time to wait hours and hours for our rendering to appear on the screen.

I can easily recommend this book to anyone looking to move beyond the 2D and basic 3D to produce beautiful rendered CAD drawings. Of course it only works with Vectorworks which by the way I feel is one of the best CAD/BIM programs on the market. I also feel it is a good reference for those of us already familiar with the program who may need a refresher once in a while.

The book can be purchased online at:

Vectorworks websites:

Daniel Jansenson can be found at: