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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Architects do in their spare time

Besides going to museums, trade shows, seeking out wonderful buildings to study and appreciate, architects tend to like to cook.  Having spent most of the last 7 years living and cooking in Italy I decided to write a couple of cookbooks.  Check them out here:


You might also like my book on how to use PowerPoint to produce your own book. 

VW 2013 review comments

Give me your comments about the review, is it too one sided, did I leave out your favorite new feature, are you having problems with the program, etc. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


By John Helm, Architect
Vectorworks (VW) is a wonderful program and every year it gets even better.  What makes it great is its ease of learning, its flexibility and its wide range of dedicated fields.   It is truly a designers program that can be used to design just about anything, from stage sets, to buildings, furniture, landscapes, theatre lighting, and even industrial products.  A preliminary design can be taken without using any other programs all way to construction drawings, and a detailed BIM model that can be exported to most other programs using IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and several other export options. 
The first thing I want to mention is an area that does not depend so much on the program itself. 
Customer Service
Let’s talk about customer service.  CAD programs are complicated and no matter how much time we have used a program or how much study we do questions and issues still come up.  VW has made it easy to resolve issues, with a good amount of phone up customer service.  But what I am most impressed with is their continuing support of the online user technical forums and the one that I have used for many years now the Vectorworks User Discussion List.  I subscribe to the digest which arrives in my email nearly every day and includes questions asked by users and user responses.  What is so impressive is that these lists and forums are actually read by the technical staff and managers of the company.  Sometimes when they see a need they reply. For example I recently posted a message about importing dwg files and got a response from the person directly responsible for that part of the programing.
80 New Features
There are 80 new features or improvements this year.  That’s what they say, I haven’t actually counted them. The best way to find out about them is to visit the VW website.  There you will find videos and lists pointing them all out.  I will just write about a few that impressed me the most.  And towards the end of this review I will mention a few of the things they didn’t fix or do yet.
Just Call me Frank
Gehry that is, here is my favorite new feature.  You know all those nice buildings he does with the warped surfaces requiring the use of a super high end computer and CAD program.  Well now you can come pretty close to doing the same thing or even do the same thing, with little ol VW.  Yes really, the new surface array feature lets one put windows, structural elements, surface treatments or even pictures of your kids on just about any surface shape you can come up with.  Create a surface using, an arc, circle, oval, polygon, polyline, rectangle, rounded rectangle or nurbs surface, then create a second object to be placed across the surface make a few decisions and clicks of the mouse and instantly the design is distributed across the surface.  One can then still make various changes and the array changes accordingly.  Once done the original surface can be left in place or turned off to create a transparent affect.   This really opens up some possibilities not just in creating exciting new designs for buildings, but in many other areas like furniture design, interior design and product design.
Surface array, one with the surface on and the other off
Auto Hybrid
This a great tool for anyone doing complex objects, walls, etc. and drawing them in 3D. The normal plan view would cover up too much of the ground plane.  The Auto Hybrid tool lets you cut the object at any level you chose and only show what is below the cut line.  And if you make the hybrid view into a symbol only the hybrid view shows up in plan view, but the whole object shows up in 3D.  I wish one could take an existing symbol and turn it into a hybrid symbol.  I tried it and it seems it can’t be done, but one can always edit the 2D component of a normal symbol.  It just takes longer.
Two plan views of the surface array objects show above.  The one on the left is how it would show up normally and on the right the Hybrid view with a cut line at 2’ above the ground line.
Non-blocking RenderingThis is a feature that lets you keep on working while your view ports are rendering.  It has potential, but you can imagine that with a weak computer everything is going to slow down.  Anyway it’s high on the list of time savers given the proper computer. 
If you use the internet, who doesn’t, you are familiar with hyperlinks.  This feature has the potential for really changing the way we produce drawings.  Of course they don’t work on paper prints.  I don’t really need to point that out except that it is the reason we would have to use an electronic means of distributing plans.  In the hands of the construction supervisor, for example , one can imagine the usefulness.  Click on a detail call out and you are taken directly to the detail, or click on a plumbing fixture and you are taken by the web (if connected) to the manufacturers site for installation instructions, or even a Youtube video.  Only the links calling out web pages or sheet layers can be exported in PDF files.  So there are some limits, but I suppose anyone with the VW viewer would have full use of them.  Next step -  those augmented reality glasses.  The carpenter wears them and the plans just pop up in front of him.  The architect doesn’t even need to include details for say a window installation, just refer to a detail on the manufactures web site.  A bit of dreaming, but I think this might be the most revolutionary and important thing they have going.  It seems one of those why didn’t we think of this sooner ideas.
The Clip Cube
Here is a tool that is truly amazing for any designer who regularly makes 3D models of his or her project.   For the designer it allows one to zoom in on an area and get rid of all the other parts of a building outside the boundaries of the cube.  This lets us work on an isolated area without the confusion of the rest of the building being in the way or a distraction.  For client presentations it can really be cool.  You can put the cube around the whole building for example and then move the boundaries in real time to expose various parts of the building – clip off the front to see inside, or the roof to look down to the upper floor and then clip more to see the lower floor in 3D.  Your clients will love this and you will be thrilled to do all the extra work it takes to make the inside of your model look as good as the outside – right?
Here are a couple clipped views of the house shown below.  Note that once you make the clip you can also move around the model to change the view. 
Create Detail Viewport
This is a nifty little time saver.  Zoom into an area of your drawing, the kitchen for example then create a viewport that is automatically referenced to the viewports drawing and sheet numbers.  Now you can annotate the viewport with callouts for the appliances, finish materials and even hyperlinks to manufacturers of the appliances, tile, etc.
 Architectural Elevations and Sections
This feature kind of snuck up on me.  I don’t see it in my version of VW 2012 and I don’t see it on the list of important new features. Turns out it was hidden away in the mechanical section and now they just added it to the View menu.  Anyway, it is the create multiple viewports command.  Quoting from the help menu, 
The Create Multiple Viewports command generates 2D drawings from a 3D model and creates up to seven viewports configured with several orthographic views and one isometric view of the model.If the command is run while on a sheet layer, the viewports are added to that sheet layer. If the command is run while on a design layer, the viewports are added to an automatically created sheet layer.
So with all the possibilities of turning on and off layers and classes and various rendering modes this makes the creation of elevations very quick. 
3D of a simple house, made in an older version of VW
Front hidden line elevation captured with the create multiple viewports command.  It is workable and with some adjustments in how I set it up it would probably be better.
If I don’t mention this I suppose the reader will wonder why.  I won’t get into it too much because there is a lot to read on the VW website.  I have been doing most of my design in 3D for some years now.  And I use the models as much as possible to create those paper drawings.  But I couldn’t say that my models are really qualified to be called true BIMs.   VW is committed to this, but I can’t say which program on the market today is the best.  At least I can say that the VW user will not be left out in the cold in this area and just may be at the leading edge.  Others more expert can make the argument.  
So these are the features that most impressed me so far, and really make this issue worth buying. 
Now what are some of the things they didn’t do.
Work Groups
VW is still a program best suited for the small office.  Even though there are many large firms using it, the program still requires a lot of planning and organization in order to have more than one person working on a project at a time. 
DWG/DWF Import Export
Improvements have been made in this area and depending upon the complexity of the project it is possible to pass files back and forth.  But doing much more than a one way pass to say a consulting engineer is still bound to be frustrating.  You can’t really blame all of this on VW as Autodesk is continually updating their products and always trying to make it difficult for competitors.   It is a major handicap considering the fact that the majority of architects and their consultants use AutoCAD and now Revit.  The VW people tell us that they have made big improvements, but some recent work on a very small residential project has shown me that there is still a long way to go, and if there are problems with such a small project one can imagine what would happen with a large complex one.
No more Manuals
I know it has been a while since the last one, but I wish they would bring them back.  Writing this article I opened up mine from 2008 to review some things I had forgotten how to do.  Sure I could use the help file, it is very good.  But it is just more comfortable to have a book in front of me.  And besides I don’t really like taking the laptop with me in the bathroom or to bed at night when I need something boring to help me fall asleep.  A book is still really the best way to study especially for someone just learning the program.  Digital help files are best suited for those already familiar with the program who want to learn something new or refresh their memory.  The lesson files provided must be good, I haven’t really looked at them, for students taking classes; however, I really wonder how many working users would take the time to go through a lesson.  It just seems much faster to read through something you want to learn and then just try it yourself.
VW continues to be what it has always been, a versatile program that can be the one program a designer needs.  It is probably the most flexible CAD program available.  Some who prefer a completely dedicated program might consider that a handicap; and for those who work in a very limited range of design options it might be true.   But for others who are into creative design and want a program that does it all it may just be the best one available.  It can be used to create everything a project needs from site plans with contour maps, pad elevations and 3D site models, to Sketchup like preliminary designs to complete construction documents and it even works well for paste up sheets of photos and scanned documents.  A landscape architect can do everything including plant lists and a stage set designer can produce his entire production with it including the lighting design.
As an architect who began his career with pencil, paper and parallel bars, I have always felt comfortable with the intuitiveness of the VW process.  I especially like the what you see is what you get aspect as well as the fact that most architectural projects end up as one file with numbered sets of sheets that become and look just like the printed sets.   One can easily scroll through the finished sheets before printing and export to PDF for client review, before issuing final drawings.  Most of these aspects of the program have been around for years.  I also appreciate the fact that VW does not force you to always design in 3D.  You can take 3D as far as it makes sense economically and then switch to 2D, or not do 3D at all.  It lets you work the way you want and the way you find most efficient; it is a bit like the fact that when we design we usually start with pen or pencil and paper, because that is often the most efficient way to get started. There are also the cloud computing services and the annual subscription services that are worth checking into.  I haven’t tried the cloud service as one has to subscribe to the annual update to be able to use it.
All the little improvements have only made the old features better  And along the way the program has grown up a lot with all the features of BIM and industry interoperability.   
As always I remind the reader that VW has furnished me with a copy of the program in order to be able to write this review.
Some Links
http://www.vectorworks.net/ Main site for VW
http://helpudesign.blogspot.it/ My architecture blog
www.hm-architects.com  Helm & Melacini Architects website
http://www.archoncad.co.nz/ Jonathan Pickup’s site for manuals and videos








Saturday, November 24, 2012

What we are up to.

Things are quiet here, it's too cold to do much outside even though we have clear skies.  There is no rain in sight and no snow in the mountains.  I have finished my two cookbooks and made another little one on how to make a book using Microsoft Powerpoint.  The how to book is based on what I learned in doing one myself without any instructions.  I also included a section on how to turn the paper version into a Kindle version. 

Also last week I finished the first go around on a little remodel project in California, it's nice to be able to keep working there even if I am in Italy.  Thanksgiving was a total loss this year as we don't have the day off, the kids were all busy with school and we don't really have any local American friends.  I may cook a turkey or part of one in the next few days just to get some idea of the feeling. 

This coming week I will also finish my review of VectorWorks 2013 and send it off to interested publishers, as well as post it on my architecture blog.  And then Luisa and I will focus on starting the organization of a children's museum in Belluno.  It is an idea we have had for a long time, but now we have the backing of the city.  They don't really have any money for it, but why let that stop us.  Donations will be accepted.

Giovanni and I continue our karate classes but he is out for a couple of weeks with a broken toe.  He broke it running around the gym at last weeks Sunday karate class.  It had nothing to do with karate really, he was warming up running and stubbed it when a kid stopped in front of him. 

I am thinking that maybe I will pay more attention to the blog for a while instead always posting on facebook.  And by the way, how about clicking on those google ads you see here.  You might find something interesting.  You would be doing me a big favor as well.

Children's Museum Belluno

We are just getting started on the organization of a children's museum in Belluno, Italy.  It is a project we are starting ourselves with help.  So far all we have is the backing, in spirit only, of the city.  But it will move forward one way or another. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The addresses below give direct access to the book locations on Amazon, no need to search.

In the US, unless you are an Amazon prime member with free shipping, order it from this site as it is the one that benefits us the most due to our own efforts at advertising.

Otherwise use any of the fallowing Amazon sites depending on your location:

http://tinyurl.com/9cs5byj   United States

http://tinyurl.com/9gu3z54       United Kingdom

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Buy Our Cookbook

We love to cook so we decided to make a book.  Check it out, it´s all about Italian food.

It is a book born from the idea that good food can be cooked even while camping, but it is not just for campers.  Below you will find the sites where you can order it. You will also find the Kindle version.

In the US unless you are an Amazon prime member with free shipping, order it from this site as it is the one that benefits the author most due to his own efforts at advertising.

Otherwise use any of the fallowing Amazon sites depending on your location:

www.amazon.com  United States

www.amazon.co.uk United Kingdom

www.amazon.de      Germany

www.amazon.fr        France

www.amazon.it        Italy

www.amazon.es       Spain

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Working in Two Countries

How we work in California as a company split between Italy and California:

The most important thing we have to offer is an experienced team with many years of combined experience working as architects, contractors and developers on a wide variety of architecture and construction projects in the US and Italy.  This experience allows us to be fully aware of all aspects of architecture and construction including budget considerations, building codes, project management, and most importantly the needs of our clients.

In particular our offices offer the following advantages:

Experience and knowledge of both design and construction and an acute awareness of both the functional needs of our clients and their budget.

We offer a savings of time in the development of our clients projects because we can offer a nearly 24 hour service, work may be started in California and continued in Italy while everyone in California is sleeping.

By utilizing our facilities and people in Italy we can generally do the same work at a lower cost.

Our multicultural training and experience means we also offer the best of American and Italian design.

We can give our clients access to the latest in Italian design and products shipped directly from Italy for cost savings and uniqueness.

Who do our clients work with and how is their project accomplished:

Our clients work directly with a licensed and highly experienced architect.   He or she will be the project architect the client´s direct contact throughout the project.  The project architect provides the personal client contact, design input, practical onsite work and coordination with planning and building departments and with the construction contractor.

We make full use of the latest electronic technologies to virtually eliminate the distance between our offices, and give the client the best possible service as well as make it easy to understand and visualize the project.  Some of these technological advantages include:

High speed internet services on both ends.

Internet based telephone service allowing free calling between Italy and the US.

Video conferencing

Cloud computing, that is making documents available offsite for access anywhere anytime.

Setting up project specific web sites.

Email, faxing, and scanning of documents and sketches.

3D models of most projects, including renderings and as needed video animations.

3d model placement in photos of the actual environment

We use the latest version of one of the most sophisticated CAD programs, giving us the ability to make BIM (building information models) and do various animations including solar modeling.

Digital photography of sites, existing buildings and use of such services as Google Earth for instant aerial surveys.

We have the latest and complete office software from Microsoft, including Microsoft Project which allows us to make a complete project schedule, including also when requested by the client a complete construction schedule from start up to move in.

We have accounts with local printing companies that allow us to transmit CAD drawings directly to their printers.  They can then make prints and deliver them to the client within their normal delivery time schedules – in a rush this can be within a couple of hours or less.

We make pdf files of individual drawings, 3D renderings, documents, and complete project plans which can be visualized on any computer even carried on one’s tablet.  3D animations can also be viewed with common software programs.

What is the process of design and production drawing:

During the first design meeting with the client we begin to develop a written set of notes and a program outlining the client’s needs.  In the case of home design we ask the clients questions about how they live, their family makeup, their likes and dislikes about design and also about the way they live, that is how they intend to use the spaces we design.  We ask them to give us their ideas about design perhaps giving us pictures as examples of what they like.  From this information we begin to piece together all the elements of the new project.  And then we begin with just paper and pen or pencil to sketch out the general layout of the new project.  Working back and forth between the two offices and the client a very rough design is developed. 

This is followed with a client meeting to determine if we are going in the right direction.  The work presented in this second meeting might be as loose as simple bubble diagrams, traffic flow sketches, and notes about the effect of the environment, sun wind etc.  From this meeting we can then proceed to refine our ideas based upon input from the client.  The project architect will then work with the other designers in the firm to refine and develop sketches.  This process of meeting with the client and development of the design continues until the client is fully satisfied that the project meets his needs.  During this initial process we will also transition from simple hand sketches, which are still the easiest way to begin a design, to more refined work with our CAD program.  At the same time the design will be done in three dimensions and 3D models presented.

During this initial design process the client’s contractor or other consultants may also get involved so that their input can be considered at the earliest affective stage.  Once the initial design is settled final design drawings are prepared in CAD.  The final design is then presented to the client for approval.  Any final changes are made and then the construction drawings are started.  Most of production drawing work is done in Italy by the principal architects or under their direct supervision.  Once the final construction drawings are complete they are transmitted to California electronically, printed and distributed as needed.  The local project architect submits the plans to planning and building departments for approval.  Building department corrections when available are sent by fax or email to Italy where corrections are made. 

Also note that since all drawings are digital, that is they are CAD drawings, they are easily sent to the various consultants for their use during the entire construction document process. 

Finally, consider that our experience, ability to understand our client´s needs and our ability to express those needs in a successful building project is our most important asset.  We offer the combination of California and European design uniqueness, cost savings in lower fees and fast project turn-around time.